Part One of a Series
By guest blogger, Jordan Daniels
When I was about 5 years old, I watched my parents design and build our house. Given that we were builders, that actually didn’t surprise me too much. Our composting toilet, on the other hand … well, that was something that rocked my world. Even at my young age I wanted to know why it wouldn’t flush like other toilets. And what did “compost” mean, anyway?
My parents responded like dedicated mentors. Not only did they teach me that composting toilets had been around for centuries, but they also encouraged me and my sister to think about our waste products on a broader scale. As my parents explained, the more we ship away our waste, the more difficult it becomes to handle. But by understanding our impacts on the world, we have the information we need to start improving it. In fact, what we see as wastes could actually be resources if we think about them differently. To that end, my mom posted the Walt Whitman poem This Compost near our composting toilet; the last line reads “[the Earth] gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.”
Furthermore, my parents introduced the idea of conserving resources. They wanted to create not only an inspiring, healthy and happy home for our family, but also one that would last for generations to come.
All this began to make me realize: maybe it was possible to live more simply and take more responsibility for our impact on the world, or at least to understand it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the concept of sustainability, a concept upon which I have since built a life and a career. What is sustainability, in formal terms? A commonly accepted definition has been established by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations: “… meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
But in addition to using this definition, it is helpful to think of sustainability as a triangle. One part of this triangle we have already discussed: the earth and how waste impacts it. The earth, or the environment, is only one aspect of the sustainability triangle, however. Without economic prosperity and social equity, the other two components, the three-legged stool that is sustainability would not stand. Each of the components is critical.
Those of us privileged enough to live in a capitalist society know the motivations of the second leg, economic prosperity, all too well. Indeed, much of the progress our world has seen in the last 200 years can be attributed to our drive to earn a buck. But until recently, our American culture has focused predominantly on making money without equally considering the broader implications for people and the environment. The economic bottom line still guides decisions, but gradually we are (re)learning to factor in the other important aspects of sustainability.
The third leg of the stool, social responsibility, is often neglected not because we don’t care about our fellow humans, but rather because we lack important information. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to know whether all the people who manufactured the products we install in our homes are paid a living wage. Or if some component of our garbage is shipped overseas for processing in unhealthy work environments. Without knowing such things, we can’t ensure that the equally important human side of sustainability is supported.
The three legs making up the stool are also often referred to as “the triple bottom line.” In the blogs that follow, I will describe how people can factor in all three parts of the triple bottom line to the decisions they make in one area they control: the home. While construction of new houses or apartments can be done very sustainably, I will focus on managing and operating existing homes. After all, a well maintained home can serve a family, and maintain or even enhance the environment and lives of people in it and around it, for generations.
About the author: Jordan Daniels is a building performance consultant based in California. From an early age his passion for sustainability influenced life decisions from education on throughout his career, with extensive travel along the way.
More information about Mr. Daniels is available at www.linkedin.com/pub/jordan-daniels/5/944/a92