Sustainability Information Troop Meetings Main Event

Related Advancement and Awatds

What Is Sustainability? – There are many definitions of sustainability, but perhaps the best one comes from the World Commission on Environment and Development (better known as the Brundtland Commission): “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

People concerned about sustainable development suggest that meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives when making decisions today. They talk about the need to focus on the triple
bottom line of people, prosperity, and planet.

Sustainability has been a part of the Boy Scouts of America’s DNA since the Conservation merit badge was introduced in 1911. Over the intervening century, we’ve moved from an emphasis on conservation to an emphasis on stewardship, from leaving no trace to leaving a legacy. Today, every Boy Scout who earns the Eagle Scout Award first earns either the Sustainability merit badge or the Environmental Science merit badge, and messages about sustainability are woven through the Scouting program starting in Cub Scouting.

The Seven R’s – The popular phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a handy way to remember how to live sustainably. But those principles are just the beginning. In fact, there are seven R’s, not just three:

  1. Reduce: Choose organic foods, sustainable products, and products that come with minimal packaging or packaging that can be recycled.
  2. Reuse: When buying everything from furniture to clothing to electronics, consider buying used instead of new.
  3. Recycle: Recycle everything you can, including paper, plastic, glass, metal, and batteries. Find places that will accept exotic plastics and other hard-to-recycle items.
  4. Repurpose: Get creative. Turn a shipping pallet into a bookcase; turn an old bicycle into a garden planter. Have fun making something new out of something old.
  5. Refuse: Vote with your dollars. Don’t buy products that have a negative impact on natural resources. Encourage companies and retailers to make the extra effort to green up their act.
  6. Rethink: Ask yourself whether you really need the latest tablet or smartphone. Do you own your purchases, or do they own you?
  7. Repair: Choose products that can be repaired, and learn how to repair them. There is a great deal of pride to be derived from repairing and maintaining products.

Sustainability and the Scout Law

Renewable and Non-Renewable Resources – Renewable resources grow or replace themselves over some period of time. They include wind, solar, agricultural harvests, trees, water, and air. You can ask these questions about renewable resources:

  • Why are these resources considered renewable?
  • How do they replenish themselves?
  • Over how long a period do they take to renew themselves?
  • What type and amount of energy input is required for each resource to renew itself?

Non-renewable resources will not replace themselves when depleted. They include coal, petroleum products (including gas, oil, and some plastics), minerals, and land. You can ask these questions about renewable resources:

  • Why are these resources considered non-renewable?
  • What is their origin?
  • How long did it take to create these resources, and how long ago were they created?
  • What conditions would be required to replace them?

Some renewable resources can become non-renewable. For example, water can become polluted, animal species can become extinct, and soil can become sterile because of poor management.

Ecological Overshoot – You might have heard the term “ecological
overshoot” but did not know what it means. Individuals in the United States consume more water, more food, more goods—just about more everything—than most people in other parts of the world. That rate of consumption has increased so much that we now are using resources faster than those resources can be replenished by nature.
This is called ecological overshoot. Think about what would happen if you kept withdrawing money from your bank account but never replenished it. Eventually, the money would run out. The same thing is happening with our water supplies. We are “withdrawing” water faster than it can be replenished. In fact, in some aquifers, the water cannot be replenished and will eventually be depleted. The same thing can happen with other resources, such as minerals, food, fuel, and so on.

Source: Global Footprint Network

When we run out of something, we hardly give a second thought to where we can easily get more. When something gets old, we throw it out and replace it. We continue to create vast amounts of waste and use up our resources with the notion that those resources are unlimited. Now that we are more aware of ecological overshoot, which scientists have determined began in the 1970s, we can do something to change the way we think and behave.

The above graphic shows how in our current state, we are consuming, or “spending,” Earth’s natural resources about 1.4 times faster than they can be replenished. This means it takes us 17 months to replenish what we consume in 12 months. By 2050, that rate will increase to nearly three times faster. If we were to work together to substantially reduce the rate of consumption, we could close that gap and Earth could sustain its current population.

Resources and References

Back to top of page

Sustainability Information Troop Meetings Main Event