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Resilience is the New Sustainability

Sustainability has become a buzzword. It’s currently used in political platforms, business slogans, product commercials, and more. When it comes to the environment, the focus on sustainably utilizing our current resources in a way that avoids depleting them for further generations is crucial. Yet, it’s important not to lose sight of other conservation effort concepts that can help protect the environment. Resilience is not the same as sustainability, nor is it a substitute. The two concepts complement each other, and the implementation of resilience will only continue to aid the environment. When bouncing back from change has become our reality, resilience is the future.

Resilience vs. sustainability

In understanding the differences between resilience and sustainability, it’s important to define them and recognize where they’re distinct. The definition of resilience is “the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop.” The definition of sustainability is “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Linking resilience and sustainability comes down to recognizing where each of the two has its place in conservation policies. Although differently, resilience aids conservation just as sustainability does.

How resilience aids conservation

Developing our Earth sustainably means conserving resources and being able to bounce back for the future. The concept of resilience is entering the conversation at a time when there’s currently a number of unknowns, particularly related to climate change. Resilience aids conservation because it allows the maximum amount of options at any given point in time. By creating resilience in the areas of land, water, and biodiversity, resources a plentiful when they are most needed. Conservation is also possible as well when there’s more than just enough to sustain the current population. For example, in the case of land, land trusts and conservation parties are working to ensure that protect healthy, natural ecosystems and green space.

When resilience is built into a system, conservation occurs naturally. It becomes a way for those most invested in the Earth to restore balance to it and allow it to maintain itself naturally. Nonetheless, resilience also shows that change is natural. Change will occur, and when it does, the environment can recover with the proper procedures in place. Focus on resilience—in addition to sustainability—provides the ability for the environment to renew itself even after tragedy strikes. To protect the environment, organizations must focus on both sides of this issue and link together sustainability and resilience for the greatest possible conservation efforts.

Case study

When considering resilience as the new sustainability, a perfect case study is the California drought. From December of 2011 to March of 2017, California suffered one of the worst droughts in its history. Yet, as local authorities reflect on this phenomenon and how to prevent damage from future droughts, they are discussing tactics unrelated to sustainability. Rather, resilience is on the table. Droughts are a recurring feature of California’s climate, and thus it’s unrealistic for this change to cease. Rather, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) conducted research to see just how resilience can fit into the state’s future plan.
Specifically, in urban areas, the state is looking to implement five actions to improve resiliency. They hope to coordinate water shortage planning, foster water system flexibility, improve water suppliers’ fiscal resilience, address water shortages in vulnerable communities and ecosystems, and balance long-term water use efficiency and drought resilience. Particularly in the last category, the local authorities are being pressed to recognize that change (such as droughts) is likely in the future. By addressing this issue in city planning stages, the state is much more likely to maintain its ability to provide water for communities and ecosystems despite any changes that may occur.

This is where we see sustainability and resilience differ significantly. The efforts to balance long-term water use efficiency and drought resilience are not the same mission. The PPIC recognizes that reducing water in urban landscapes can make it harder to quickly cut water use by urban landscapes when droughts occur. While this may be contrary to “sustainable” thinking, it is necessary for resilience.

Final thoughts

Goodbye sustainability, hello resilience! Resilience may be a relatively new concept to the dialogue surrounding progress for the environment but it’s a significant one. Recognizing the differences between sustainability and resilience and how they can work in tandem will help to craft successful policies in conserving the Earth’s limited resources. Success comes in focusing on both of these strategies where they are most needed.