Sustainability: why does it matter and how do we achieve it?

21 March 2023
A bee lands on a flower in the Community Garden

Facing the climate emergency, more and more of us are thinking about how to build environmentally sustainable communities. But how does this fit with Cyrenians' mission to tackle homelessness, and what are we doing about it? Community Gardener Kat Dunlop looks at the issue.

The climate emergency is ever present in the news with the effect of extreme weather events, pressure on food supplies and the refugee crisis all being exacerbated by climate disruption. There is much talk of net zero, crises in biodiversity, depletion of natural resources and habitats and transition away from fossil fuels.

How does this affect what we do at Cyrenians?

Our vision is that everyone can live valued and fulfilling lives. Everyone deserves a healthy environment to live and work in, and access to nature and healthy food, it is only right that we commit to this as a responsible organisation.

Here at Cyrenians we try to lead by example, and one of the goals we set ourself is;

“To promote environmental sustainability and to minimise waste”.

Most people will agree that environmental sustainability is a good thing but what does that mean, and more importantly how do we achieve it?

One of the simplest definitions comes from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals;

“meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

At its most basic it is about how we obtain, use and dispose of all our resources. One method of deciding whether something is sustainable or not is to think of the 3 ethics of Permaculture. Permaculture is an ethical design system that can be applied to any situation but arose from merging of two words ‘permanent’ and agriculture’ in the design of permanent food crop systems. At its heart there are 3 strands to consider;

  1. People care – Is it kind to people? E.g., Are they paid and treated fairly? Are they harmed in the process?
  2. Earth care – Is it kind to the planet? E.g., Regenerating ecosystems instead of extracting resources and degrading environments.
  3. Fair share – E.g., Not taking more than you need, sharing resources. Will it be available for future generations?

In order to move forward on this, we have reconvened an Environmental Sustainability group drawing on people from a range of projects and divisions within Cyrenians, to focus on actionable goals to improve sustainability across the organisation.

There has been two main strands to our strategy so far;

The first has been to look for quick wins within each project, looking at the simple things that we can do in our daily practise to improve our sustainability. Most of these are focussed on the things that we should be doing anyway, but maybe require improved systems and reminders in place to make it easier for everyone to do the right thing.

For example;

  • Improving the waste recycling systems at workplaces so that all waste can be collected in separate containers for ease of recycling and informing all staff and service users of the new set up.
  • Reminders of being conscious about the use of the printer/laminator.
  • Switching off appliances when not in use.
  • Making carshare easier and promoting active travel.

The other part to the plan will evolve over time; auditing our use of resources and workspaces, looking at procurement, where we buy financial services from, how this affects organisations that we work with and how we share good practise. Off the back of this we hope to build a sustainability framework for decision making processes and a review of policies to make sure they align with best environmental and sustainable practise.

In the Community Hospital Gardens Team, for example, we have been acutely aware of the changing climate, and are focussing on how we can provide a positive example to the community by;

  • As far as possible using organic, fair trade and or local suppliers.
  • Recycling, reusing and repurposing materials.
  • Adapting planting schemes to be more resilient in extreme conditions.
  • Conserving water through water harvesting eg. waterbutts, irrigation systems, mulching and drought tolerant planting.
  • Improving biodiversity through plant choice, building healthy soils and providing different habitats.

There will be many other things that we can do on the journey to net zero and environmental sustainability. It is a work in progress. But by putting environmental sustainability at the forefront of our decision making process we are ensuring that we are doing what we can to create a greener, cleaner, healthier environment for everyone, and give hope for all our futures.