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What Is Environmental Sustainability?

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  • Written By: Jan Fletcher
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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Environmental sustainability applies ecological science to the design of man-made artifacts and the management of human changes to the environment. This is done for the purpose of sustaining life-supporting biological, meteorological, geological and hydrological systems. A sustainable system is one in which a balance of diverse plant and animal life, and hydrological cycles continue on in a stable manner, thereby supporting abundant biological diversity. If environmental damage has already occurred, sustainability may also be a proactive endeavor that restores the integrity of these systems. Environmental science is applied to both the proactive and restorative aspects of environmental sustainability.

Features of natural environmental systems includes hydrology, and indigenous plant and animal life. Activities that ensure or restore sustainability in natural systems also affect human social activities such as recreation, industry, and agricultural production. In designing and implementing sustainable practices, the impact of people on ecological systems and vice versa is also considered part of environmental sustainability.

This practice is often referred to as the triple bottom line, or "people, planet, profit." The triple-bottom-line theory advocates the inclusion of economic factors in the design and implementation of sustainable ecological solutions. It is an approach that is gaining support, as it attempts to ameliorate the opposition sometimes mounted by economic interests of those concerned about the impact of eco-friendly practices on local economies.

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Hydrological systems are of major concern in environmental sustainability. These systems are impacted by weather patterns, and man-made developments such as highways, or construction of buildings in agricultural areas, as well as erosion caused by human changes to water sheds. Pollution or changes in water flow in hydrological systems can degrade many aspects of the surrounding ecological system.

Environmental management of biodiversity involves restoring a natural balance between human, animal and botanical species. The spread of an invasive species may be a sign of environmental degradation. For example, Reed Canary Grass may populate a river bank in which the natural hydrology cycles have been disrupted. The biodiversity of native plants that may provide food and shelter for native animals is gradually replaced by a much less desirable species. As a result, a decrease in the environmental sustainability of the hydrological system will eventually occur.

Sustainable practices may by implemented at the neighborhood level, all the way up to attempts to restore planetary environmental sustainability. An example of the former would be restoring a creek that has been degraded through pollution caused by runoff. An example of the latter would involve geopolitical actions to ascertain and reach sustainable levels of carbon released into the atmosphere.

While political discussions have resulted in divergent opinions on some issues regarding environmental sustainability, consumer sentiment impacts this area. More businesses are responding to marketplace trends that show an increasing public awareness of the dangers of unsustainable practices. Consumers who desire eco-friendly practices in architecture and construction are also part of the environmental sustainability movement.

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