Moving toward sustainability

  • Trathen Heckman, of Daily Acts, is involved in the sustainability movement. Heckman helped lead a team of volunteers in transforming the landscape at Petaluma City Hall into edible gardens, which includes rainwater catchments. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Trathen Heckman says when his Petaluma-based nonprofit environmental organization, Daily Acts, held its first "sustainability tour" 11 years ago, he did a Google search to find out other groups who were doing the same thing.

He came up with only one reference: His own tour.

When he Googles "sustainability tour" now, he comes up with 15 million hits.

It's a reminder to Heckman of just how far the world has come in a relatively short period of time when it comes not only to understanding the word "sustainability," but to incorporating its principles into everyday life.

It was in 1987 that the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development introduced the term "sustainability," defining it as meeting "the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Think of it as the global equivalent of living within your means, and not spending down assets you can't replace.

Whereas even a decade ago, however, few people outside of the environmental movement knew what the term meant, now many middle-of-the-road Americans are turning the philosophy of sustainability into what Heckman's group calls "Daily Acts."

They're dumping SUVs and buying smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. They're taking up bicycling. They're getting into vegetable gardening, composting kitchen scraps and recycling trash, replacing water-thirsty lawns with native plants, raising chickens in their urban backyards, toting their own canvas bags to the grocery store and farmers market and seeking energy efficiencies in their homes. Solar panels that appeared weirdly futuristic in 1999 are showing up on tract houses and public buildings at such a rate they no longer turn heads.

But it's not just aware citizens trying to do the right thing.

Cities and counties are on board. They have sustainability coordinators and offices devoting to seeking out more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of providing services and running government. Businesses are adopting green practices, not only for good public relations but because it's good for the bottom line. And universities are offering degree programs and certificates in everything from green business and human ecology to green fashion. Sonoma State University last fall began offering a certificate in "Sustainable Communities and Green Building."

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