Sustainability - what's that?

February 9, 2018

The inevitable question for someone engaged in sustainability is, ‘what is sustainability?’ The definition that I like most is:

The avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance.


However, in the working world this is probably a bit esoteric and I always strive to deliver pragmatic answers so when I am asked what is a sustainable product or service, the answer is that there are no absolutely sustainable product but there are some which are more sustainable. It is not my position to draw any moral guidelines on the degree of sustainability of any solution, I would encourage the use of any product or practise which has a lower impact than the alternative.


I do believe that if we are to meet our challenging environmental target then we are going to have to engage with every single person in the country (and beyond) and to do that we must be able to highlight some things that everyone can afford and manage. I also know that this will frustrate some people who feel, rightly, that we have to make progress very quickly, but I think that engagement will rapidly deliver change if people can see the sense and practicality of solutions.

We have already seen how quickly people can become engaged with ideas such as minimising the use of plastic shopping bags, sorting our rubbish for recycling and the very rapid adoption of LED lighting. It is also true that sometimes we fail to understand just how quickly progress is being made. For example, renewables’ share of electricity generation was 30.0 per cent in 2017 Q3, up 4.6 percentage points on the share in 2016 Q3.


The whole area of transport is already shoring huge disruptive change and believe me, there’s more to come. A couple of years ago I wrote a paper called ‘Sustainability on a Budget’ which was launched in the House of Commons. I believe that it is still wholly relevant today and large parts of it have been included in the next round of regulatory changes in the heating sector.


I shall continue to spread the word far and wide and I hope that you will too?



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