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I decided to make own page for comments for the Abedin's text Defining sustainability and its metrics.
Why do you think that current approach views sustainability only as one element? In my opinion the three pillars of sustainability; environmental, economic and social, are constructed from three main elements that consist of vast amount of matters, which are interrelated to each other. In my opinion your new approach is focused too intensively to energy, also I would say that we could measure our total energy consumption already. I think that reducing energy demand is only a short-term solution, the fastest and easiest to contribute to sustainability in terms of energy consumption and generation. In my opinion if we discuss about energy we should focus to producing the energy via sustainable solutions and at the same time focusing to energy efficiency. I think that measuring the energy consumption is only a small part of sustainability metrics and we should focus more to measuring how much pollution does the energy production create rather than the energy consumption itself.
I have to disagree about your point of view with the new pdf technology example, in my opinion you are now thinking only about lifecycle of a product but in my opinion sustainable development with its three pillars does focus to these aspects as well. Perhaps these three dimensions are not taken enough into consideration but we do have a possibility for this. Also we have to think about the economic perspective, although we might loose jobs because of this it is also a question of business. Companies will go bankrupt because disruptive technologies and new innovations, if someone will not take use of others will eventually. I think that sustainability is always with trade-offs, which is a huge issue with sustainability but something that cannot be ignored or left out.
In my opinion your five pillars for sustainability metrics are too narrow, they do not take the economic point of view into consideration. I think that the three pillars are better since they serve as a basis. They take everything into consideration but only if they are used effectively enough, which they are not at the moment. The three pillars are related to each other strongly and they should not be used separately, which I think is the current issue here. Your top-down approach is excellent and I think it is the right way but I think you have to develop more of your metrics towards sustainability – at this moment they are too narrow scoped in my opinion.
You have a good point with your light bulb example; new energy saving solutions might not be more sustainable after all. I think that the main issue here is competition and business, companies are forced to create more innovations, new business models et cetera in order to survive in the markets. The current trend is sustainability thus they tend to focus to solutions that are sustainable but I think that theses new solutions sustainability is not that straight forward as you say. Their purpose is indeed good but I think that monitoring the waste and their complete lifecycle (not only the products manufacturing but what happens to the industry, social elements, waste created etc) is necessary before we can say is it sustainable or not. I think that energy saving lamps are indeed sustainable but this is based only on the fact that they last so long and require less energy compared to older light bulbs. Not all new is bad!
I am a huge believer of the planetary boundaries as you might have noticed in my previous discussion; I recommend you read the pdf file I posted to wiki from Johan Rockström. I think you might find some ideas there for your metrics for sustainability work.
The EIEIE Ecosystem looks good and seems reasonable but I think that the current model for producing energy is going towards the right direction, slowly but surely because of cleantech. During the last 10 years cleantech has become a huge industry itself that has received vast amounts of investments. Its solutions to energy are good but not yet complete, perhaps one important solution would be carbon capture that would make fossil fuel sources sustainable. Nevertheless there is the issue of were to store the emissions although there are few solutions as deep oceans and spaces where oil has been pumped out (holes have to be blocked though). At the same time biofuels, solar energy, wind power, even harnessing oceans tidal waves is improving. I don’t quite understand the need for measuring the total need for energy since it would be only a small solution to a constantly rising issue because the need for energy is growing.
I think that reducing energy consumption is a good solution and is needed but most importantly we have to produce the energy in an efficient and sustainable matter. Research shows that monetary incentives to reduce energy consumption are not enough, consumers might find them too complicated or small but rather good incentives have been the neighbor effect where people are ranked based on their neighborhoods energy consumption. When they receive the energy bill they can see that they might be doing good, average or bad compared to neighbors. At the same time when neighbors have installed solar panels there has been a huge increase with solar panel installations within the postal code. Psychology has to playa huge role with the incentives and it shows that money is not good enough in terms of energy saving! I also think that saving energy and money at the same time is not a bad thing. Perhaps these savings are used somewhere else or perhaps not but I don’t see the issue here. Maybe they will buy chocolate and therefore increase the chocolate manufacturing but perhaps the chocolate is manufactured in a sustainable manner and will be a better solution than using more energy. As I stated trade-offs in sustainability are always present.
Eco-industrial networks such as industrial symbiosis are perfect solutions for byproducts. Through industrial symbiosis networks companies can save a lot of money, resources, energy et cetera and therefore contribute to sustainability a lot. Industrial symbiosis networks are dependent on byproducts thus decreasing byproducts might not actually be always the best solutions. I understand what you mean by solar energy being finite but I disagree since the fuel of solar energy is infinite for mankind (well sun will eventually explode to be correct). Obviously we cannot install infinite number of solar panels but if we can make solar energy “collectors” better and at the same time develop energy storage (which is a huge issue with solar energy) we could achieve infinite solar energy. Nevertheless this will not happen in the near future or maybe it does. Cleantech is receiving more and more investments in an increasing number and the industry grows constantly, therefore there might be radical innovations born in the near future!
I don’t think that the carbon trading does any good for sustainability as you say. I think that the best solution is to put price on emissions; emissions created will mean expenses for companies and zero emissions would not create any costs. Price on emissions is what the economist suggests in order to make the corporations create solutions for emissions very quickly.
Anyhow good work with the metrics, I have given a lot of comments / critics because my own views are to some extent in contradiction with yours but I think that different views create new ideas! I gained a lot new knowledge and got a lot of new things to think about when thinking about sustainability. All in all thank you for the good work!
BR, Henri Mikkola