In our current era of advanced climate change, it’s more important than ever to incorporate sustainability into our daily lives. But when we talk about sustainability, the discussion is typically centered in urban and suburban areas.
We know that using public transportation helps reduce fuel consumption, for example. But wide-scale public transportation typically only exists in urban settings. We also understand that recycling helps reduce waste in landfills and can reduce our carbon footprint. However, many rural communities and small towns don’t have recycling programs in place.
So how can we bring sustainable practices into rural parts of the country? Residents in rural areas can make small changes to incorporate sustainability into their daily lives, but can it be done on a larger scale as well? This article will explore the ways in which rural living and sustainability intersect, from sustainable communities to large-scale industrial farmsteads.
The Concept of Sustainable Development
While we tend to think of the idea of sustainability as a modern concept, the movement got its start just after WWII. In 1948, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was founded following a summit in France. Its founders sought to adhere to three distinct concepts that form the backbone of sustainability: social development, economic development, and environmental protection.
Public health is a branch of all three concepts, and it’s an integral piece of the rural sustainability puzzle. Rural communities face many public health challenges, especially when it comes to provider access. The closest hospitals or care centers are often far away from many rural communities, and personal vehicles are typically the only avenue rural residents have to reach those medical centers.
The public health field itself is working to bridge the gap between rural living and quality medical care. One of the top five public health jobs is the role of environmental scientist, and it is expected to grow by 11 percent over the next decade. These specialists study how the environment affects public health, as well as develop plans to prevent, control, and fix any environmental problems present at the local level.
Environmental scientists embody the core principles followed by the IUCN, and rural communities are at the crux of much of the research performed by these professionals. By developing a keen understanding of how the environment affects public health, healthcare professionals, from executives and safety engineers to environmental scientists, can figure out how to best serve underprivileged populations, including many rural communities.
Sustainability on a Smaller Scale
To become more sustainable, rural communities don’t necessarily have to go big. Small-scale sustainability starts at home. Along with reducing fuel consumption and recycling as often as possible, rural residents can change small parts of their daily life in order to become more sustainable.
One innovative way to incorporate sustainability in cities and rural communities alike is by eschewing paper records in favor of their digital counterparts. Document scanning and electronic document storage are helping businesses and individuals cut down on their carbon footprint and become more environmentally sustainable. Digital document storage is especially pertinent at the rural level, when farms are factored into the equation.
Sustainable agriculture starts at the ground level, by incorporating farming practices that are environmentally sound and good for communities while remaining profitable. According to Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, the concept of sustainable agriculture rewards the true values of producers and their products. Digital record storage is a big part of the equation, as farms can reduce their carbon footprint at the bureaucratic level while reducing the headache that often comes with keeping paper records and invoices organized.
Bringing Sustainability to the Rural Workforce
As farming communities are a major player in the rural workforce, it’s important to incorporate as many sustainable practices as possible. Some farms are moving towards green energy on a large scale, installing solar panels or wind generators as their main sources of power. Further, they’re beginning to incorporate sustainable agriculture practices, such as rotating crops on an annual basis to keep the soil rich and reducing the use of harmful pesticides.
Renewable energy also comes with job growth, reports the Union of Concerned Scientists. Wind energy is expected to provide 80,000 new jobs by 2020 for rural landowners and farmers, as well as an estimated $1.2 billion in new income. That’s a win-win for farms and consumers alike.
Other sectors of the rural workforce are doing their part to incorporate the principles of sustainability. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, is investing in sustainability in a number of ways. It has even been endowed with a gold award from the Climate Registry, despite the misconception that the organization is not eco-friendly. The Postal Service does its part to help reduce its impact on the environment by using energy and water efficiently.
The agricultural supply chain is also part of the larger picture of sustainability, giving it a competitive advantage along with a model to follow. When individual workers observe sustainable business practices, they’re more likely to bring those ideals home with them.
Within the rural workforce, it’s more important than ever for employers to share their environmental sustainability plans with employees. Further, the principles set by the IUCN remain imperative if we hope to undo the damage caused by climate change. Overarching sustainability is absolutely possible in rural areas, and it is helping to change rural life on a large scale.
Photo is pexels creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.