GUEST COLUMN: Sustainability isn’t an aesthetic, it's a commitment to growth


If you search sustainability online, a lot of different images will pop up. Most of them are green -- aerial shots of trees, green light bulbs, and cute graphics of wind turbines, bicycles and solar panels.

These images typically fit a very picturesque, idealistic perception of what sustainability means and looks like in action.

I’m not here to discount those common perceptions -- as they’re very much part of the goal -- but it’s important to understand sustainability isn’t pretty, nor is it as simple as those images might lead you to believe. 

Individually, sustainability requires work, research and honest self-assessment. We need to question our actions, consider our impact and put in the work to do better. As I’ve said in a past column on waste reduction, we need to face our own collective ugliness. 

However, it’s not just about individuals living an aesthetic lifestyle, complete with a vegan diet, a minimalist home, products with green labels and a zero-waste jar. On a larger, more effective scale, sustainability involves collaboration and mobilized communities working toward institutional, structural change.

At its simplest, the term means meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same, typically used in an environmental sense. Like most things, it’s nuanced and complex -- interdisciplinary in theory and intersectional in practice.

Though it can be an overwhelming world to dive into, pursuing sustainability can turn into a meaningful experience -- one that connects to various social issues and prioritizes justice and equity.

With Central Sustainability, a platform dedicated to collecting information on sustainability at CMU, we’re committed to raising awareness on the multi-faceted nature of sustainability. Through this work, we’ve created a CMU-supported Sustainability Pledge, which takes a number of big concepts and breaks them down into small, bite-sized ideas on how to contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world.

While the pledge covers energy, water, waste and transportation, we also want to highlight the social aspects of this commitment through civic engagement, advocacy, community involvement and a section focused entirely on how to support diversity, equity and inclusion.

Sustainability is a process, and it’s a goal that will likely never be fully realized. Despite this, our collective vision of a people and world in balance is not a naive fantasy, but an essential pursuit. 

In trying to improve our environment, we will -- and we hope you’ll join us in supporting our communities and bettering our planet.

For more information about how to live sustainably, check out our Sustainable Living Guide or visit our website to learn about our work.

Teresa Homsi works for Facilities Management and the Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on sustainability education and initiatives. For more information about specific projects, visit Central Sustainability on CentralLink.