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Sustainability Newsletter for October

The Triple Bottom Line

The “triple bottom line” is a term first used in 1994, coming out of the business world, used to help guide investors in choosing ethical corporations for safe, responsible places to invest their money. The idea is that a business, in order to provide ethical investment opportunities, must be profitable, but it must be socially and environmentally responsible as well. “People—Planet—Profit” is a short-form encapsulation of this concept that has grown to extend far beyond the business world. For example, it is echoed in the Mount’s Sustainability Position Statement, in which the Mount pledges to integrate “environmental, economic, and socio-ethical perspectives” into all of its decision making processes. The Sustainability Committee’s newsletter will discuss these three elements of sustainability in the Oct., Nov. and Dec. installments.

Mount St. Joseph University Sustainability Position Statement

Sustainability is the practice of living and working so that we may meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability includes considerations that integrate environmental, economic, and socio-ethical perspectives.

Mount St. Joseph University recognizes its responsibility, as an institution of higher education to support human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations.

Because of this, Mount St. Joseph University acknowledges the importance of Sustainability as a guiding principle and will consider these elements in institutional decision making, including in its long term strategic plans.

People—Planet—Profit

One thing to remember about the environmental crisis that our planet is facing: Life on Earth will go on, no matter how drastically humankind alters the environment. We’re in the midst of a human-triggered mass-extinction, but Earth has experienced such things before. The biggest, the Permian extinction of about 250 million years ago, wiped out between 90-95% of the species on the planet. Over time, the diversity of life on Earth recovered, though it had changed forever. It will do so again. The only question is whether conditions will support human civilization, and indeed, human life at all.

Difficulties for humankind in the face of our unsustainable relationship to our planet are well under way, and if you pay any attention at all to the news, you see it every day: Low-lying and island communities are already facing the consequences of sea-level rise. Indigenous communities in the Arctic are facing the rapid alteration of their warming environment. People in tropical island communities are seeing the coral reefs they depend on bleaching and dying. Droughts in the Middle East and Africa are forcing people off their ancestral lands into cities, which contributes to social and political unrest. Tropical rain forests are still being cut, at rates that are again accelerating, which has devastating effects on local wildlife and local communities, but has the potential to affect us all. Fires right now destroying homes and communities in California are tied to changing climate. Unprecedented floods and drought occurring around the world are taking out homes, entire communities, and lives. This is a difficult litany, but it goes on. Pollution, littering, and toxic contamination are unsightly and disgusting, but they are also dangerous. Toxic chemicals permeate the biosphere, from the depths of the cells in our bodies to the very deepest depths of lightless ocean environments. We could still go on.

The key point is this: Human beings depend on the environment, whether we choose to be aware of that fact or not. We have to breathe air. We eat food. We need clean water to sustain our bodies. When the environment is degraded, then the quality of our lives begins to degrade. And it is often the least privileged people who suffer first, and who are now suffering. Poorer communities, who don’t have the political clout and resources to resist, are often the ones who face pollution and the degradation of their local environments first. They’re the ones who can’t always afford to have food transported to them from far away, because that makes food more expensive. They can’t fight the new mine or the new clear-cut, the new factory. It is so often in poorer communities that we see cancer clusters due to environmental contamination, or food shortages due to changing weather conditions, or even the psychological effects of noise and isolation from the restorative presence of nature. So, sustainability is very much about people and about justice. When we advocate for sustainability, we do it with the welfare of all people in mind. The less-privileged, as we are seeing, often suffer first and the most. But we are all part of the global community. The more privileged can insulate themselves only for so long. People are in this mess together, and together, we still have the time, and we can spread the necessary vision, to work our way out of it together.


Do you have a question about sustainability? Either here at the Mount, in local communities or environments, or globally? We think you might. Ask us! Contact either of the Sustainability Committee’s co-chairs, Karl Zuelke (karl.zuelke@msj.edu) or Colleen McSwiggin (colleen.mcswiggin@msj.edu) or any member of the Committee. We’ll choose one question per month and answer it in this space if we know the answer, or we’ll contact someone who does know if we don’t. Let us know!

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