Why sustainability is not only ecology

Sustainability means to take care for the ecosystems, of which humans are part of, in the present and in the future. It is important to understand that sustainability is not only ecology. Sustainability implies taking care for three main aspects of our world: ecological, social and economical.


What do we mean by ecological, social and economical?

Ecology is a science of ecosystems. Ecological is what takes care for ecosystems based on this science.
Social: there are many different definitions. We will consider in this article ‘social’ as a care for the needs of all human beings (eating, health, safety, accomodation, relationships…).
Economy: by ‘economy’ we mean the system of production of goods and services.

If the economic and social needs are not cared for, the nature will also not be cared for. Why?


This can be explained with the pyramid of needs by Maslow: if the basic needs, as need for food and safety, are not fulfilled, people cannot be involved in the fulfilling of their self-actualization needs, such us creativity and problem solving. For example, if someone has no money to afford food, they would not care about how to decrease human impact on the ecosystems. Their main focus will be how to get more money for surviving or for living a little bit better. This priority of needs is the same for everyone; fulfilling of these basic needs allows some of us to care about ecology.

This is why it is so important to take care for social and economic aspects of sustainability, which means to take care for people who are living now on this planet. If we take care for people, people will be more and more able to take care for nature, which may prevent the collapse of the ecosystems and, as one of the consequences, the collapse of humanity.

How to take care of people?

Social care is a necessary and important work but we also need to influence the economic system for having a major impact on sustainability. Indeed, the healthy economy is today the condition for fulfilling of the most basic human needs (food, health, accommodation…) which are also, as Maslow explained it, the condition for fulfilling of the other needs.

The problem of economy today is, that it is based solely on profit. The profit increases if social and ecological standards are lowered. So there is a constant pressure from economy to lower these standards. In a tough battle between international companies the winners are mostly the ones that can find the cheapest workforce, move production to countries with lowest environmental standards, most successfully evade taxes and sell the most products that people do not really need.

To change that, we need the help of the politics who would set firm global environmental and social standards and encourage economy to be more helpful to the society. We can do that with a smart tax system, which would tax pollution and support social welfare, and only if there is an international cooperation: one country or even one continent, such as Europe, can not change the economy for better alone, as increasing social and environmental rights would make it less competitive than other countries/continents. This would result in loss of jobs and the country would face problems on social aspect which would lead to environmental problems. That is why Europe struggles so much to keep its social/environmental standards in face of global competition with countries with much less social/environmental rights.

However, even if it is so hard to influence the global economic system, everyone can have some influence on their own environment. Human society is inter-woven, so everything we do will have some impact on the society. In each country, in each place, it is worth to be involved. Politicians have interest to take tough decisions only if the public opinion is making pressure for going this way. That’s why our involvement is absolutely necessary.

Looking forward…

If for some of us our basic needs are fulfilled, we can take the responsibility to be involved in promoting sustainability for ourselves and for other people. Because sustainable development should be holistic, there are many ways to be involved and this gives us the possibility to work according to our own creativity (in social care, scientific research or invention, farming or gardening, communication, building, economic studies, business running, handicraft, teaching…). This will help us to be happier (self-actualization) and allow us to have more impact on the society and the rest of the world.

Anna Vittet, EVS volunteer from France