Defining Sustainability | St. Lawrence University Sustainability Program

Defining Sustainability

Monday, October 30, 2017

Midway through the semester it seems I am at an ideal point for reflection. Sustainability is an overarching ideology of the program and yet I still find myself flustered by the lack of  concrete definition to go with it. I admit it is something that is hard not to obsess over in relation to myself and the world around me. Am I even sustainable? Given my technological habits and enjoyment in excessively long showers, one can make the argument that I am not. Given my privileged position in a first world capitalist society, one can make the argument that I am not.

Organic farming is often considered a prime example of sustainability, and although it is definitely better than its industrialized alternative, often I think people forget that it too has environmental flaws. Flaws that I had first hand experiencing during my summer job on a local organic farm.

It was hot and humid, not ideal conditions for the monotonous task that we were assigned to complete that day: black plastic removal. This material is used frequently for weed prevention, but in this newly created stawberry field, it had been overwhelmed. By undercutting the bed with an attachment to one of the tractors, we pulled the rows of plastic from the field. Dust coated my arms and face which the heat turned to a thin coat of mud. It was impossible to collect every scrap. I knew it would only accumulate as more black plastic beds will be raised, and the bits will just keep piling up.

Black bits of plastic, this is just one example of how organic farming practices can be unsustainable. Others brought to my attention include their reliance on manure from factory farms, and use natural pesticides and fungicides. Natural that will still have implications on the natural ecosytem. So, does that mean one can make the argument organic farming is not sustainable? The more I search for the ideal-the perfect sustainable specimin- the more I think one doesn’t exist. But the more I realize that that is okay. Sustainability whether in regards to organic farming or myself is not simply defined in black and white.