Maybe you’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve thought it. Maybe you’ve even said it. Over the past few years, sustainability has been a word filled with nuance and burdened by colorful marketing ploys. But sustainability is not a trend or a movement. It’s not hopelessly idealistic or unrealistically expensive. And it’s much more than greenwashing or a public relations tactic.
What really is sustainability?
At the end of the day, sustainability is an outcome. It’s the direct result of a society, organization or individual facility that is more aware, communicates better through social networks and learns faster through diversified and accessible media content. In the context of the built environment, sustainability is the cumulative effect of the improved design of buildings, systems and products and the mindful operation and management of existing buildings. It’s driven by a greater level of awareness of both building management and occupants and enabled by the proper use of technology.
Where technology comes in
The evolution of technology has closely paralleled the growth of sustainability and these two interconnected trends will help elevate the agricultural industry. Initially, leading thinkers saw the growth of technology as a negative environmental impact. Paul Ehrlich, a noted biologist and demographer, proposed a formula to summarize a population’s environmental impact: I = P x A x T (Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology). However, as entrepreneurs and innovators have applied technology toward addressing environmental issues, the formula is up for revision. Ray Anderson, a green business thought leader and CEO of Interface Inc, believes that the formula should be as follows: I = P x A / T (Impact = Population x Affluence / Technology).
Technology can be an integral part of transforming the environmental impact of a society. Anderson’s change in the formula, shifting “T” into the denominator, illustrates that technology can be part of the solution—not part of the problem. Even as the population increases and growing affluence adds to each individual’s environmental footprint, technological advances can help to dramatically reduce the overall impact on the environment. This principle can be applied to the population of a nation or the population of a neighborhood.
While technology is a broad label, information technology (IT) more specifically deals with acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of information. The world is in the midst of a revolution driven by information—that has helped create a rich and broad base of knowledge that supports cyclical, wholesystems thinking rather than linear, myopic growth. Intelligent Integration of Technology
If you can apply technology intelligently to a given issue, like the urban food system, you can realize significant environmental and economic results. These days, you can’t trip over a rock without stumbling on a human-technology interface of some sort: cellphones, laptops, car dashboards, tablets, whatever you’re reading this on… IT is more accessible than ever and should be leveraged to make systems more efficient. We must utilize technology to more efficiently distribute food that is grown locally. The Farmers who support NYC’s green markets spend 12+ hours a week driving their food from their farm, setting up at the market, selling, packing up and driving back to the farm. Localizing food production helps shorten the distance between farmer and consumer. Once IT gets involved… we are looking at a pretty efficient system.
What does the misbegotten love-child of IT and urban farming look like? agrowculture.org. Our marketing and sales platform helps urban farmers sell food directly to their neighbors, which shrinks the environmental footprint of our food system. Not to mention efficient farming technologies like hydroponic systems and greenhouses, can, together, reduce water usage by 10-20 times, eliminate the use of pesticides, accelerate growth periods and provide consistent, reliable yields all year-round.
Citizens are the change agents who can start localizing our food system by growing their own food or choosing to buy food locally. Join us at agrowculture.org and help us start growing local food networks.
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