Moustadam is the Arabic word for sustainable. While searching for the meaning of sustainability, I found it hard to find a single definition, but a majority of the readings I consulted suggest it as a way of living that guarantees strong economic growth and high-quality social living within a greener environment. Sustainability is also about the relation of the present to the future. Accordingly, in 1987, the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations defined sustainable development as "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The first time I came across the word “sustainability” was in a class I took in my final year in architecture school. At that time, the word related to proposed creative solutions for a village in Jordan that would function off the electricity grid. In that class, we designed the village taking into consideration the required amount of energy, farms, and animals needed for its survival.
After working for several years in planning and development, and after taking extensive courses in “sustainability,” I have come to the conclusion that sustainability is a way of living. It is a culture that exists within us, but we still need to enhance it and understand it. Sustainability exists in every spontaneous act we engage in. It involves how we wash our face, what we eat, how we commute to work, what field we work in, and what lights we leave on in our houses and workplaces.
The sustainability dialogue has been going on with increasing strength for more than a decade, and we are hearing it now louder and clearer than ever before. This is evident in the ongoing discourse on climate change, the dramatic rise in oil prices, or the continuous growth of the world's population. Now, many finally are accepting the need for achieving higher levels of sustainability. This is not caused by the big pressures we have created on the earth's resources, but because we no longer can handle continuously rising energy bills.
The United Nation and several other organizations have initiated most of the sustainability guidelines and principles available to us today. It is a big field now. For example, there are about 35,000 organizations working in the sustainability business in North America alone. With the impressive amount of knowledge we have at our fingertips about this issue today, we have the ability to make our products, our buildings, and our towns sustainable. We can also make big differences in our daily lives if we change some of our daily practices, as with choosing to recycle or choosing to park your car a bit further away from your workplace so as to walk a bit more and cause a bit less carbon emissions.
An important principle to remember and abide by in any project where sustainability is to play a role is “The triple bottom line” (TBL): Economy, Environment, and Society. The TBL principle forces us to look holistically at any project or product in a manner that incorporates three different perspectives. Therefore, when designing a given project with the TBL principle in mind, we assess its financial implications while comparing them to its environmental impacts and considering its benefits to the community.
With time, achieving sustainability is proving to be a choice that is more feasible and much more durable than following previous practices. Through sustainability, we hope to promote systems of thinking and to change our behavioural patterns to achieve a more responsible attitude towards Nature. We of course cannot change our lives unless we change ourselves. Through engaging in new choices, behaviours, and defining our reactions to current changes in our environment, we can build a better sustainable future.
Nourhan Al Kurdi
December 18, 2012