Sustainability Science Essay

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Sustainability Science

Phase 4 Discussion Board

The article that I will be reviewing is "Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development." This article was published in the journal Sustainability Science and directly covers the development of the academic discipline. The authors note that as the discipline matures into a full-fledged academic discipline, there is a need to understand the nature of sustainability science and what the key competencies are going to be to understand the discipline. The authors have studied a number of journal articles on the subject to make a determination about what competencies are required: systems thinking, anticipatory, strategic, interpersonal and normative.

The authors have a good understanding of what sustainability science is. They point out rightfully that systems thinking is critical, because sustainability science is about the systems that support human life. Strategic competencies is required because interventions are required to save us from ourselves, and this also requires a high level of interpersonal competence as well. Anticipatory competence is also identified, and that makes sense in the context of sustainability science, as the discipline is almost entirely concerned with anticipating future outcomes, both in terms of identifying risks and in terms of designing effective interventions. The authors define normative competence as "the ability to collectively map, specify, apply, reconcile and negotiate sustainability values, principles, goals and targets." I am not sure how this is any different from combing systems competence and interpersonal competence.

The argument is structured on a meta-analysis of sustainability science literature, to determine what competencies have identified and what competencies might have been missed -- a gap analysis. This paper makes a clear argument, supported by evidence. While it could be viewed as a starting point for discussion, it is a strong starting point that helps to bring together a lot of the different thought on what sustainability science is.

Phase 4, Discussion Board 2

Fresh water availability reflects the structure of the global hydrological cycle and how this affects the ability of human beings to have fresh water available for our use (Engelman & LeRoy, 1993). To this I would add that drinking water and irrigation are the uses most important -- even though we use clean water in our toilets, technically, we don't need to do this. Fresh water access as I understand it pertains directly to sustaining life, not comfort.

The environmental perspective looks at fresh water from the point-of-view of the hydrological cycle. Understanding the hydrological cycle is critical to developing a sustainable pathway for freshwater usage, in particular as fresh water resources are in the largest countries. Some, such as Brazil, Canada and Russia, rank among the highest in the world for freshwater resources per capita (World Bank, 2014). The social science perspective looks at other factors affecting freshwater resources. This includes usage and development patterns, and also potential outcomes where there are freshwater sources. It is well-known that water resources are not dispersed evenly around the world, so political barriers are important to consider when examining freshwater sustainability.

From an economic perspective, there has been some examination of the issue of capitalizing water, something many corporations are in favor of. Some studies focus on gathering data where water is subject to charge (Saal & Parker, 2001) while other studies focus on hypotheticals with regards to capitalizing water.

Climate change and adaptation are critical issues with respect to water. First, climate change is affecting rainwater patterns, and it is also affecting groundwater. Some areas are going to be badly affected by climate change with respect to water. Further, since two-thirds of fresh water is locked in polar ice caps, melting of those ice caps will dramatically alter the amount of and availability of fresh water on this planet. Entire books can be dedicated to the study of how climate change is going to affect freshwater resources, and further study could elaborate on the intersection between the hydrological cycle, social and political factors contributing to water sustainability and the role that business can play in bringing about positive change to water policy.

Phase 4 Discussion Board 3

Companies can measure their own water usage fairly easily, since many utilities already measure this. When you read through the sustainability reports of companies, when they talk about water they tend to know how much they use. It is easy to measure water flow, and most companies like to know what the inputs to their processes are. Often, they have to by law, when there is wastewater that must be handled properly. Efforts to measure water usage are likely to be more complicated in the developing world, but this doesn't seem to be a huge issue.

Some companies definitely seek to reduce their water usage, in particular when they have to pay for that usage. The current efforts are a positive step, but as of now they are entirely voluntary. Further, some companies are saving water in areas where availability is not a concern -- what good does it do for a company in Canada to reduce water usage? Not much. At the end of the day, efforts are still just voluntary and not nearly enough companies are interested in serious change. Coca-Cola can boast about cutting water usage, but their products are a waste of good water. And most companies don't care at all -- they still build golf courses in the Southwest.

The longer time frame is more interesting, because when water becomes scarce, it will represent a constraint on business. As such, we are starting to see the development of new technologies and concepts that will help reduce water usage, at least in certain industries. But this needs to go a lot further in order to have a serious and positive impact on freshwater resources in the world.

Phase 4 Individual Project

I will look at Coca-Cola and its sustainability report to discuss the issue of fresh water. The United States has adequate fresh water resources, but not everywhere Coke does business can say the same. The report contains a section on water stewardship. Before I get into it, the front of that section has a photo of an African woman carrying a large jug of water on her shoulders. This is sort of the problem, no? People must travel, sometimes miles in a day, to get fresh water, and carry it, without vehicles or animal transport. This seems like Coca-Cola is basically bragging about this situation, or reminding people that unlike the woman in the picture, Coca-Cola never has to do this to get water to make its products. I am actually kind of floored by this image.

Coca-Cola notes that it is reducing the amount of water it uses per liter of product. This is not sustainability, of course, as optimal efficiency is that one liter of beverage to drink would require one liter of water to produce. The company does note that it treats wastewater. Unfortunately it argues that it "sometimes returns it to nature cleaner than required by law," which sounds good, until you realize that in many countries the laws regarding wastewater are exceptionally lax. So again, the company seeks to frame its actions are being something more than what they are, which is unexceptional.

The company is correct when it points out that it is in a unique position to act as a steward for water, given its resources and its presence in almost every country in the world. No government or international body has this power, only multinational corporations. The company shows that it is improving its water use efficiency, though this is best in North America and Europe (which have good water resources) and relatively poor in Africa and the Pacific, the latter likely a function of small, inefficient plant. But Africa and the Middle East are areas where you would like to see Coca-Cola at its best.

So overall, the company makes some progress, but would be better off going out of business than using 2 liters of fresh water to produce 1 liter of carbonated syrup. Ultimately, the best and most efficient use of fresh water is to apply it directly to parched throats and thirsty crops, not to turn it into soda.

I wouldn't have much to say to the WWF about the issue of Coca-Cola's water use, or really water sustainability at all. Clearly animals need fresh water as well, and I'm in favor of having enough water for them, but this group is not well-positioned to fight this fight, and honestly has bigger fish to fry, so to speak, what with all the impending extinctions. I'd say I support his cause and donate some money, then get back to work on the water issue.

Climate change is going to, at the very least, redistribute water. This is going to be interesting because water resources are already poorly-distributed. There are a lot of risks, that nations will no longer be self-sufficient in water, for example. Melting ice caps will reduce the amount of…[continue]

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