Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Case for Sustainability

Sustainability. The unifying principle which catalyzed twelve students to depart from the Twin Cities to the rural town of San Isidro, Nicaragua.
Sustainability. The unifying principle which catalyzed twelve students to depart from the Twin Cities to the rural town of San Isidro, Nicaragua. From my own experiences though, I fear that many people have misinterpretations on the central dogma of sustainability. My own family and friends scoff at my studies from time to time.

The New Oxford Dictionary defines sustainability as “Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level,” a message that I can whole heartedly stand behind. Though oftentimes when someone hears the word sustainability their eyes will roll, and internal monologues will likely ridicule tree-hugging college students and low-effort marketing campaigns which as of recent have attempted to jump onto the bandwagon.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking overlooks the many sustainable practices we have had the chance to study while abroad in Nicaragua. This narrow-minded thinking fails to address the many businesses that we have studied which are addressing sustainability in their own ways. One such example is a bakery that we visited today. This rural, small-town bakery was founded on the idea of using less natural resources to obtain economic development. A novel pursuit!

Today we had the pleasure of visiting a local bakery which has thrived off the sustainable technologies that EOS International (the non-profit which we have partnered with to study sustainable development in Nicaragua) has developed. We learned firsthand how EOS was able to come in and build a sustainable oven for Silvia, who at the time of instillation did not have any means of income. Silvia used the oven as a stepping stone to create a thriving bakery. A bakery which has since installed two more large-scale ovens due to business demands. From my marks, the oven meets all the criteria of a sustainable practice. In one fell swoop the oven promotes economic sustainability by creating jobs, environmental sustainability by using less natural resources to bake goods, and then providing social sustainability by creating jobs for women. The last point is especially important in my opinion as for all of Nicaragua’s stunning qualities, women’s rights is a rather bleak subject. Businesses like these are so important for creating lasting social sustainability.

The common perception of sustainability, in my opinion, heavily undercuts the true meaning of the principle. It severely undercuts what sustainable practices are attempting to develop. Being able to bear witness to truly sustainable business ventures in developing countries has been eye opening, and are lessons one cannot learn in a classroom. I believe this because unless one truly experiences the culture of a developing country, they will be unable to adequately address the three core values of sustainability. 

Sustainability at its core can be broken into three categories: environmental, social, and economic development. I always like to think of these principles as three old Greek pillars holding a monolith up. Should one pillar fail to hold its weight, the temple will fall. Just as with sustainability, only when all three principles are met will a practice truly be sustainable.

 Learning about the full scope of sustainability in developing countries is what I came down to do and this goal has been accomplished through first hand experiences such as today. Problems with sustainability are a dime a dozen throughout the developing world, not just Nicaragua. If you’re reading this and should one day want to create lasting change for this world, get ready to travel to a new world. Get ready to learn. Get ready to be uncomfortable. And get ready to come out better from it on the other side.

Blog entry by Aaron Carlson


  1. Global Seminars. Take a UBC course led by a faculty member with a group of students to experience hands-on learning. check Twin Peaks Survey

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