Sunday, October 27, 2013

What's the Deal with the "Social" Part of Sustainability?

In our last post, we talked about the triple bottom line of sustainability--  how social, economic, and environmental issues cannot be solved in isolation of one another. On the macro scale, this might be easy to conceptualize. People need adequate resources to take care of themselves and their environment. The environment needs knowledgeable and self-actualized stewards; the economy cannot be a force that undermines the other two. These are just a few abstract illustrations.

On the micro scale it may be difficult to envision the kinds of specific situations into which these factors figure. What kind of situations are some people in who lack adequate resources to take care of themselves or the earth? How do we make people take care of the environment? What kind of lifestyle is conducive to living in harmony with the earth? What economic practices compromise neither individuals nor ecosystems?

In a recent article on NPR's website, "How Could A Drought Spark A Civil War?" (find here,, the authors highlight the work of Nyan Chandra, who makes the case that civil strife and environmental disasters can come hand in hand. Chandra posits that a massive drought before the Arab Spring left many lacking a necessary resource and fueled animosities in the region as well as economic grievances. Perhaps this heightened the imminence of war. Notably, Chandra traces the drought back to climate change.

While this example is certainly thought provoking, we need to bring things back to the Denison bubble, and figure out what social sustainability here could mean.

During Fall Break, the Fellows met with Jonathan Kalin, founder of Party With Consent. A senior at Colby College, Jonathan began Party With Consent as a movement to encourage"enthusiastic consent," aiming to prevent instances of sexual assault (check out Jonathan's blog here--

Jonathan workshopped with us on thinking critically about partying and consent, as well as on a larger underlying dynamic: gender and consent. One activity we did was called "the man box." On a whiteboard, Jonathan drew a giant square. Inside the square, he wrote down our ideas about what constitutes "manliness." Outside the box, he wrote down our ideas about what is considered "unmanly" and the words used to describe someone who occupies this space outside the box.

Our finished product!

Again: how in the world does this all relate to the work we do as Sustainability Fellows?! 

Something a junior Sustainability Fellow, Daniel Fiorentini, says quite often is that our work is to "develop community through sustainability." In building a community that cares about its environment, we are tasked at building communities in which members respect the wellbeings of others. In this context, committing ourselves to healthy party practices certainly fits.

In the coming months, the Sustainability Fellows will be promoting healthy party practices by working to implement Party With Consent, as well as making recycling more accessible to party hosts.

In the meantime, think about your own lifestyle choices that might not seem to be obviously related to sustainability. How might those choices have social, economic, and/or environmental implications, and what can you do in light of such to make responsible decisions? 

Fellows mulling over the multifaceted nature of sustainability at our Fall Break retreat

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