What does the word sustainability mean? How is it achieved? Is it an individual or collective problem? And how much will it cost?
These are some of the questions that Chevening Scholars tried to understand and answer at the Sustainable Futures workshop hosted by the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield on Friday, 27 April.
It was agreed early that the definition of sustainability was contentious and dependent on the context in which it was being used.
The workshop was focused on unpacking these various contexts into which sustainability falls and finding ways in which it can be applied in people’s lives.
Grantham Centre’s Associate Director, Professor Colin Osborne, opened the day’s programme with a keynote address on the challenge of living sustainably as the world approaches a population of 10 billion people.
He noted that there is a great imbalance between developed and developing nations with regards to population growth and consumption patterns. By 2050, the largest increase in population will take place in sub-Saharan Africa, yet in terms of resource consumption, the more developed world far exceeds the less developed.
Professor Osborne went on to share that one of the problems the world faces is that as people become wealthier they tend to consume more, and due to the finite nature of resources, this is not sustainable.
When it comes to food, by 2050 we will need almost 70 percent more food calories to meet consumption demands.
Not only are people eating more calories than they actually need, but the production of food is unsustainable and harmful to the environment. Most of the food crop grown across the US and Europe, for example, is fed to animals.
As Professor Osborne put it, ‘We need to have an uncomfortable conversation about meat as the production of meat leaves a huge carbon footprint.’
Professor Osborne wrapped up his address by suggesting that we move to a circular economy in terms of the products that we use, such as plastic. The aim is to ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ all the products that we possibly can.
After the address, Scholars broke out into separate sessions to try and answer different questions on sustainability. These sessions were led by PhD students at the Grantham Centre answering the sustainability question in different fields. The first two sessions dealt with the questions, ‘what would a sustainable future look like?’, and ‘who should be responsible for promoting sustainability?’
The consensus was that a sustainable future was one in which there was reduced consumption and a focus on using renewable resources. On the question of responsibility, the agreement was there is a collective responsibility from the smallest individual to the largest supra-national institution. We broke for lunch and then headed into two sessions that looked at sustainable eating and sustainable energy.
In the session on food, the task was to look at what are healthy and sustainable foods and what are not. The group agreed that it is better for people to eat less meat and more vegetables, legumes, and fruit. People should also go for seasonal and locally produced foods rather than having a meal of items that are imported from far-off places.
The last activity of the day was a panel discussion reporting back on the different sessions. Professor Tony Ryan, Director of the Grantham Centre, gave a brief closing address in which he spoke on plastic and recycling.
Chevening Scholars then posed a number of different questions to the panel of experts and the conversation drew to a close with an agreement that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to the sustainability question. Everyone must commit to playing a role to achieve sustainability as we all share one planet and therefore have an interdependent future.
A great thank you to the Grantham Centre, the University of Sheffield and the City of Sheffield for hosting such a scintillating and robust discussion.