Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sustainability - A System Approach

In the recent years issues of global pollution, part of which may be a global warming, rising energy costs, natural and human-induced disasters, among others, are becoming of concern more than ever. The problems, such as this, can be solved only with the system approach on all levels. What is a System approach, and what is Sustainable?
Every system, big or small, is always part of some bigger system and, in turn, consists of number of smaller systems.   For example, our Solar system, being a part of the Galaxy, consists of the Sun and  planets, one of them being our precious planet Earth. In 21st century no one needs to be convinced in how complex the Earth system is, with its geology, atmosphere, oceans, life and  of course, the pinnacle of it, as we like to think, human civilization.
There is no lack in definitions of Sustainability. In very general terms, it is a system’s ability to maintain its state over time without need for external resources or energy. Using the previous example, the Solar System with planets spinning around the Sun on the stable orbits, can be considered sustainable system. We may often hear about sustainable economy, sustainable society, sustainable ecosystem etc. 
Lately, sustainability and sustainable development are used very often, and there is a danger of it becoming yet another buzzword. Some people already react to it negatively as some do to the notion of global warming, due to being overused and being overly politicized. I am not a real believer in the idea that sustainability can be achieved simply by appealing to the conscience, although educating people is an important part of it. I also disagree with those who call for stopping the progress, reducing the needs and shrinking the population. There is no light of hope in the future like this.  ­­
In fact, real sustainability is not an ideal state, but a goal. It is not just a “feature” either, like a solar panel or a wind turbine, which, as well as many other features, can only be the means in achieving sustainability, if used properly and made it in a system. Yes, it can be started from the small element, but it had to become a crystal around which the sustainable structure would grow. For example, sustainable building may incorporate geothermal system for heating and cooling, solar thermal system for hot water supply, heat recovery, rain water collection, quality windows , non-toxic materials and paints. Specific combination of the components and its interconnection should be determined by performing modeling, based on the needs of the building as a system.  In the urban context, it should involve planning for sustainable architecture, integrated in the environment, proper density, infrastructure for alternative transportation, more green spaces, like parks, within the city. On the national level it is energy planning based on the long-term impact, and not short-term benefits, encouraging industries, working in the area of alternative energy, waste recycling, investment in research in those areas.   

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