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My thoughts and reflections Essay

I hadn’t considered the inter-plays that exist between the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability, I subscribe to the three pillars of sustainability (figure 1), that is each has an impact but they are independent of each other.

Figure 1: Three pillars of sustainability

Source: Wallis, A. M., Graymore, M. L. M., & Richards, A. J. (2011) p.596.

Class discussions and research enabled me to see the interactions between these pillars and I started to contemplate sustainability more as an interactive process aligned with the three spheres of sustainability (figure 2) which I interpret as being of equal importance and that is you connect them all you will achieve sustainability.

Figure 2: Three spheres of sustainability

Source: Wallis, A. M., Graymore, M. L. M., & Richards, A. J. (2011) p.596.

My ecological footprint gave me personal insights into my impact on the environment. I reflected on what I could do to reduce my footprint; an all-electric house, job with extensive car travel and I am a meat eater. What future was I leaving my children and what could I change? I could reduce my consumption of red meat, saving a planet, however the economic and social impact on our farmers for me outweighs the impact on the planet after all that is their livelihood. I can reduce my energy usage by turning appliances off at home and work and I can use technology for meetings to reduce my travel imprint.

I watched a number of documentaries on natural disasters and asked myself why we have done nothing to prevent these and what have we learnt. I reflected on the impact of the recent drought throughout Victoria. Ballarat almost ran out of potable water, our lake ran dry and tourism was in decline. This environmental event was impacting on our economy and the social impact was and is still being felt today. Human behavior changed, current water demand remains at levels of the 1930’s therefore I’ve concluded that humans need a crisis in order to change behaviour for the good of the environment. But have we really learnt from this, the drought of the 1930’s suggest not, evidence was there that we over used the land having a significant impact socially, economically and environmentally but yet natural disasters droughts still occur due to inadequate consideration of all aspects of sustainability.

Worldviews and values
A light bulb moment – I hadn’t considered sustainability worldviews. Was I more inclined to lean towards the atomistic (individual-centred) view or the holistic (earth-centred) view? On reflection I think for me it is both, unless you hold strong beliefs one way or the other I believe we hover in between; we all interpret data differently based on our starting assumptions and values and are less likely to change our worldview.

In particular I reflected on Indigenous Australians who hold to a traditional value, the land is sacred to them; by holding this view they have a positive impact on the environment; they only take what they need, they give back and believe in the spirit of the land. They didn’t need politicians to develop policies and legislation to make them reduce their carbon emissions or to look after the land. I am faced with the dilemma of how we as a nation can make a difference; it appears that I have more questions than I have answers.

Sustainability phases
Most organisations are slow adapters to change and usually do so as a result of compliance activities being enforced upon them due to new or reformed legislation, a good example of this is OH&S legislation in Australia. Are we doing enough through education to ensure the next generation of leaders will consider sustainability more than a buzz word? We have created a throwaway society, landfill is becoming scarce and yet our propensity to have the latest gadget is not decreasing, locally, nationally and internationally we need to look at ways in which we can recycle or reuse the materials on a large scale that has a positive impact on the planet.

Another light bulb moment came when we researched companies that we believe are sustainable and consider what phase of sustainability they are in. We looked at Acciona Energy and concluded that they are in sustaining corporation phase as they are paving the way in sustainability. Not all would agree as there are people in Ballarat who are opposed to wind farms and their worldviews are strong in the belief the turbines are more harmful to your health and nothing will persuade them otherwise. This re-emphasises that our assumptions and values in many ways holds much stronger than any evidence that may be presented to us that may refute our views.

My journey
I have discussed and debated the values I hold and how by changing one small thing we can make a difference to our ecological footprint. If everyone made one small change in their lifestyle it may grow into something that will impact positively on the planet; e.g. Earth hour which started as a national event and is now a global phenomenon. I’ve planted a vegetable garden, my meat consumption has decreased and I actively shop for locally produced vegetables and fruit. I have moved my thinking to that of the ‘bullseye’ model (figure 3) which “shows that the human system, which is broken up into social and economic systems, must stay within the capacity of the social system to be sustainable.” (Wallis, A. M., Graymore, M. L. M., & Richards, A. J. 2011. p.597)

Figure 3: Bullseye model

Source: Wallis, A. M., Graymore, M. L. M., & Richards, A. J. (2011) p.598.

I have contemplated how we move sustainability from a buzz word without introducing legislation which may not change people’s worldview. I work in the not-for-profit sector we are at the compliance phase of sustainability, we can move to the efficiency phase by building the capacity of our community leaders; raising their awareness of sustainability, allowing them to experience the impact of their decisions and making a change that positively impacts the environment. I have seen sustainable behavioural change occur; such as water demand, if the reason for change is compelling but we have to recognise that change is a journey and for each of us we have to subscribe to the view that we want to change.


Wallis, A. M., Graymore, M. L. M., & Richards, A. J. (2011) Significance of environment in the assessment of sustainable development: The case for south west victoria. Ecological Economics, 70(4), 595-605.

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