By Sarah Ludwig RauschMedically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 23, 2021
You’ve no doubt heard the term “sustainability” as the concept becomes more widespread. But what exactly is it? How does it affect our everyday lives? And what, if anything, can we do about it?
There are many different kinds of sustainability, says Steven Cohen, PhD, director of the Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management at The Earth Institute in New York City.
The United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals provide a good example of the variety. They include things like ending poverty and hunger while ensuring good health, quality education, clean water and energy, and reducing inequalities. “Pretty much everything that makes the world worth living,” Cohen says.
Environmental sustainability is drawing a lot of attention these days. Cohen defines this as “allowing us to develop economically without destroying the planet so that people in the future can still have the same ability to enjoy the material things that we have today.”
Sustainability efforts are underway worldwide. In the United States, federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are all working toward sustainability goals.
Laws like the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act have contributed to much cleaner air, water, and soil in the United States for decades. “One of the hopes I have for all of these issues is that the same technologies that created the problems can be used to fix them,” Cohen says. “We can solve this problem. We just have to use our creativity and imagination.”
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