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What Is Environmental Sustainability?

In ecology, sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse, robust, and productive over time – a necessary precondition for the well-being of humans and other organisms (UN Food and Agriculture Organization). ┬áLong-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems.

In practical terms for the land planner, architect, or homeowner, enhancing environmental sustainability in the landscape could take the form of:

  • A forest restoration project using native species to protect the indigenous genetic pool, ensuring long-term success and health
  • A riparian or wetland restoration designed and built to accept and survive flooding events while naturally self-creating microhabitat too difficult or expensive to install
  • A retention basin or rain garden that naturally matures and stabilizes into an attractive, natural-looking area requiring little to no periodic maintenance
  • A meadow-building project that, over time, exhibits the flora and fauna species diversity and health of a naturally occurring meadow within the ecoregion
  • A backyard native garden that successfully resists weed encroachment and looks as it should year after year
  • Replacing an intensively maintained lawn with a naturally durable planting, which reduces groundwater contamination from expensive over-fertilization and saves money over the life of the site
  • Using locally harvested, natural or recycled building materials in landscaping

To learn more about our ongoing research supporting sustainability, visit our research pages. To learn about international environmental sustainability measures, visit Columbia University’s site. To find out more about environmental sustainability issues in your local area, visit these links: Chesapeake Bay Program, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

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