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Sustainability and Happiness: Real World Results, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 994

Essay

The idea of “happiness” is rooted in the founding of the United States, as the “pursuit of happiness” is considered to be an inalienable right. The way that happiness is measured, and more importantly, the way it is achieved, are subjects of some debate. Happiness may be thought of as a strictly personal matter for some, but the idea of happiness as being a part of the larger social order has been given significant consideration in recent decades. Researchers from a variety of fields, from psychology to economics to sociology among others, have attempted to determine that sort of social, cultural, and political conditions give rise to the greatest measure of happiness. The nation of Bhutan has gone so far as to replace its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) analysis with a Gross National Happiness Index, a sure sign that governments and other organizations are taking this conception of happiness seriously. According to the World Happiness Report “the quest for happiness is intimately linked to the quest for sustainable development.” This view holds that sustainability is at the heart of economic success and equitability for the greatest number of people, and cities and countries around the world are on a quest to make sustainable living a reality. The city of Burlington Vermont serves as an example of this movement, as it has recently adopted energy policies that allow the city to use sustainable energy for 100% of its needs.

According to the World Happiness Report, the United Nations has announced the need for Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted on a global scale. These goals are based on four pillars: end extreme poverty; environmental sustainability; social inclusion; and good governance. In this context it is possible to see that environmental sustainability is inextricably linked with social, economic, and political issues. It takes good governance to bring about the changes needed to drive sustainability, while the impact of strong environmental-sustainability policies can and does have a positive impact on economic development and the well-being of all people. By getting people involved (i.e.- “social inclusion”) in the process of bringing about sustainability, both the work and the rewards can be shared in an equitable manner. This is not mean to indicate that sustainability will bring about economic equality; it simply means that it can and does support conditions and circumstances in which greater happiness is achieved on a large scale.

The city of Burlington stands as a perfect example of how the benefits of the four pillars can be seen when put into action, and how each of them is linked with the others to form a strong base of support for happiness. There is no question that good governance is central to the accomplishments of Burlington in terms of energy policy and usage. It has been the purview of city and state agencies, working together with each other and with the residents of Burlington who brought about the changes to the city’s energy use. Government agencies such as the Burlington City Council and the Vermont Department of Public Service have worked in conjunction with private and public organizations to adopt sustainable energy policies.  The Washington Electric Cooperative (WECI) is a member-owned organization that provides electricity to rural and semi-rural Vermont, and it was coordination between the co-op and the city of Burlington that made it possible to achieve 100% sustainable energy. With the recent purchase of a hydroelectric plant, WECI now delivers 100% of Burlington electricity sourced from wind, water, biomass, and other sustainable energy sources.

This movement has proven to be a boon for private citizens and organizations in Burlington and throughout the state of Vermont. The movement to adopt sustainable energy comes with transition costs as new technologies are explored and implemented, and this has underpinned new sectors of job growth in the city and the entire state. This shift was part of “a years-long strategy to wean themselves from traditional sources of power,” and involved cooperation between individuals, business, and public and private organizations (Ring, 2014). Burlington is also a city known for its liberal social policies that promote social justice and inclusion at all levels of society, and it is this political and social environment that helped foster the kind of cooperation needed to make the movement possible (Ring). The adoption of sustainable energy has been so successful that WECI often generates more electricity that it can use, selling off the excess at a profit to other utilities and customers (Ring). While it took many years to reach the point of 100% sustainability, the results have proven that projects of this scale are within practical reach.

Interestingly, a Vermont-based case study also demonstrated how difficult it can be to achieve sustainability without the requisite cooperation and appropriate economic, social, and political conditions. Beginning in the early 2000s the University of Vermont began a program of adopting sustainability practices, and found these efforts hampered by “complex and ineffective governance, traditional disciplinary boundaries, and the lack of a shared vision” (Pollock et al, 2008). With the university serving as a microcosm of a larger system, it was possible to see how conflicting viewpoints and agendas could and did stand in the way of achieving sustainability. Among the most egregious problems discussed in the case study was the issue of “cumbersome governance” (Pollock et al), which served as a counterweight to change and the adoption of new approaches. It took the combined effort of student groups, school government, and individuals from the student body and the school leadership to bring about the consensus needed to promote sustainability. Now, like the city of Burlington, the University of Vermont gets a significant amount of its energy from sustainable sources. Projects such as these demonstrate that the four pillars of sustainability are viable, practical, and successful.

Works Cited

Pollock, Noah et al. ‘Envisioning Helps Promote Sustainability In Academia’. Int J of Sus in Higher Ed 10.4 (2009): 343-353. Web.

Ring, Wilson. ‘100% Of Power For Vermont City Now Renewable’. Boston Globe 2014: n. pag. Print.

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