EME 504
Foundations in Sustainability Systems

1.4 Critical demands on sustainable systems and sustainable management

There are some philosophical differences between conventional natural resource management and sustainable resource management. Sustainable management requires plans for preservation, conservation, and restoration of natural resources and their systems (Figure 1.5).

Sustainable Management and Development differs from traditional practices in that it:

  • considers the benefits of NOT using a resource;
  • considers the direct AND indirect value of a resource;
  • considers that savings that reduced resource use brings (i.e., lower pollution and waste management costs).
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Figure 1.5: The foundations of sustainable resource management.
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This image consists of a photograph of an ocean scene surrounded by words: Sustainable Management = Preservation + Conservation + Restoration. Preservation requires high levels of long-term commitment, Conservation rarely happens, and Restoration is expensive and only effective at the landscape level. See surrounding text for more information.

Techniques for Sustainable Management and Development

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Figure 1.6: Techniques for sustainable management of natural resources.
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This image consists of a photograph of a waterfall surrounded by words: Substitution: trades depletion of a resource for another and does not inherently reduce pollution. Recycling: only effective if the recycling loop is closed. Efficiency: uses fewer resources, most effective, cheapest, not end-pipe. See the surrounding text for more information.

As summarized in Figure 1.6, efficiency is the most effective and cheapest technique for sustainable management of natural resources. However, it requires the largest amount of planning.

50% of communities in the U.S. have access to recycling programs. However, recycling is only effective if recycled materials and products are economically competitive and qualitatively comparable to products created from virgin sources. In other words, the "recycling loop" needs to be closed.

Presently, there are few economic incentives to use recycled products:

  • Low demand for more expensive recycled goods
  • Few companies are willing to buy returned items to be recycled
  • Returned items are taken to the landfill

Throughout history, resource depletion has been addressed by substitution. For example, after large portions of forests were used as biofuels, coal, and other fossil fuels became widely consumed. Over reliance on substitution has a negative environmental impact because it:

  • trades depletion of one resource for another;
  • does not inherently reduce pollution.