Honorable Mention, High School Category, "Making A Difference" Essay Contest, 2011

By Daniel (Hwasung) Yoo

Daniel Yoo Daniel Yoo

Daniel Yoo, 15, is a student at the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies in Richmond, VA.

Essay Question: What does sustainability mean to you?

At the heart of human philosophy rests the question of how we can prosper and better ourselves in our interaction with others, while remaining sensitive to nature. Sustainability, when applied to relationships, answers this question. Sustainability wears a shroud that seems to associate itself with exclusively material concepts. However, in recognizing the vast spectrum of sustainability's usage, it seems all the more crucial to note that sustainability plays a critical role in relationships. Even at the heart of environmental discussions, the actual subject in debate is not sustaining our resources, but sustaining our relationship with Mother Nature. Attempting to understand sustainability in a material sense has a habit of leading people to take on a myopic viewpoint, and nothing proves to be more detrimental to progress than people failing to understand one another. To fully understand sustainability, I find it more intriguing to explore its application in relationships. Only by finding sustainability within ourselves can people begin to see its potential for improving the world.

Sustainability in relationships runs on two legs: mutuality, and responsibility. Without both legs working in harmony, sustainability becomes fragile, and can limp at best. It struck me that compassion, having a part in sustainability, played a pivotal role in sustaining human life. Compassion almost falls into a subcategory under mutuality. The familial structure provides the figure of the parents and their children. Children rely heavily on their parents, and parents seek the best conditions and opportunities for their children. Although this relationship is not mutual in any material sense, emotion and responsibility sustains it. Emotional mutuality (as we know it) remains unique to people, and takes great presence in human nature and attraction. As a result, children grow and prosper in the guidance of their parents, and reach adulthood with a sense of direction. This relationship model builds our younger generation, and sustains a productive, capable population. Essentially, sustainable relationships equal sustainable life.

Sustainability has now taken a more familiar, understandable identity. As a result, understanding the ethical position of environmentalists and activists alike becomes much easier, because the same themes seen in the parent-child relationship apply. People find a sense of identity and purpose in Earth's uniqueness, and its ability to sustain life. Generations, old and new, often find it tragic that the Earth they inherited has undergone exploitation to where it has begun to deteriorate. Therefore, responsibility and mutuality/human compassion will lead them to stress the importance of leaving behind a clean planet for future generations, one that stands free of scathing scars from industrial activity. This is the parallel between parents wanting the best for their children. The elements of sustainable relationships emerge, and as a result, so do two lasting relationships: one between people and the Earth, and the other between generations. Sustainable relationships have now revealed themselves as the source behind the sense of obligation towards protecting the environment. In a way, sustained relationships ward off callous disregard, and play a key role in promoting awareness about the condition of our planet. In this broader example, the full strength of sustainability in relationships surfaces, and we see that it proves resilient enough to promote a sense of interconnectedness between existing and future generations. Identifying an example of sustainability in a common relationship has now enabled us to easily see its application in the greater world.

One must account for another underlying factor that adds to the complexity of relationships in order to eliminate the conflict of interest: balance. Analyzing two entities interact in a popular debate regarding sustainability can depict balance's potential as a solution. The suffocating image of landfills and factory wastes grabs viewers' attention when watching a documentary, the news, or other forms of media. It becomes much too convenient to put the crushing responsibility on the titans of industry. The new "industrial standard" still remains as the centerpiece of companies' arguments. Sadly, the reasoning is plausible. The planet recently surpassed 7 billion in population and demand has never so steeply skyrocketed. Companies must compete through swift, mass production, so the byproduct is a disregard for the environment. Once again, two relationships that must be sustained emerge: businessmen with their companies, and businessmen with their planet. Most people holding high-ranking corporate statuses share a sense of responsibility and recognize the mutuality of themselves and the environment. It is simply a part of human nature, as explained before with the family unit. For executives and managers, those same feelings of responsibility and mutuality exist towards their companies, as well. The dilemma surfaces and the obvious question is, "how can corporations compete and thrive all the while preserving their relationship with Mother Nature?" The answer lies in balance. Establishing equilibrium between these personal and professional relationships answers the conflict of interest.

We can bridge the gap between environmentalists, corporations, and the environment through recognizing that people on both sides share a responsibility. The burden forces one to recognize and confront the difficult balancing act of professional and personal realms. This means that corporations must take steps to repair and contemplate their relationship with the planet (no, 20 percent less plastic bottles are not enough). Also, activists should strive to introduce environment-friendly industrial habits that keep companies growing and competitive. The beauty of defining sustainability as a web of mutual relationships rests in its ability to eliminate sides.

It seems that we have fallen into the "buzz." However, we simply journeyed beyond sustainability's traditional definition to reveal "relationship sustainability's" efficacy in tackling the popular issue of environmental scarring. In doing so, one comes to realize that the unique concept of sustainability in relationships exists in the very building blocks of society: families. Expanding the same general idea brings us to a logical consensus about the progress of environmental debates; that the first step to progress requires sustaining the professional and personal relationships of activists, corporations, the environment, and then finding a balance. By taking a humanistic approach to sustainability, one can discover that it provides a foundation for society, environmentally conscientious efforts, and resolving stale debates. Observing sustainability's role in relationships promotes unity, which takes priority in addressing the state of the environment, because we all share this planet.

Read More: Education, Environment, Environment/Sustainable Development, United States

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