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Sustainable Development

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Sustainable what?

Sustainable development can be defined in many ways; the one that I prefer to use is that of the Brundtland Commission: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."(1) Along those lines, many Governments around the world strive to minimize the pollution impact over our most valuable resource, the Earth. Additionally, lobbyists have spent thousands of hours encouraging legislators to enact laws to protect the environment, and so far we have gotten some results. But I think we can do even more; the next question: What? And the answer is very simple: changing the culture.

From the Capitol Hill

I have read in many newspapers how congresspersons discuss whether or not to ban a new bill that would substantially improve the energy consumption, or to incentive Scientifics to develop alternative energetic resources. It is not on my best interest to say that it has been useless all the effort, not only because it is unfair, but also because some of those efforts have shown positive results. Many chemical plants started to treat their wastes, and many Scientifics have developed systems that allow high reductions for many pollutants, improving the life of many rivers, lakes, and the air.

But is it enough? I'm afraid the answer is no, we are still overusing many resources, and even though we are polluting less, the degradation of the raw resources is becoming more evident. The excessive use of fertilizers, the massive construction business, the uncontrolled tourism exploitation, and several others make little all the improvements we have reached so far. Our generations, specially those of the future, are facing a huge challenge to solve or at least to smooth the impact of all these factors, making the sustainable development concept more a reality than a mere dream of idealist people.

From inside

Are we doomed to live in a society that has no interest on what will happen in the future?

I have talked to many friends, explaining them my concerns on this issue, about their opinions on how they think the world will be in 100 years from now, and most of them give the same answer: I'll be dead by then, it is not my problem. This answer really discourages anyone with a mind-changing mentality, because the future is not only on the hands of the big industries, it is on each one of us, the current citizen that use his/her car every single day regardless the pollution level, or the one than having recycling possibilities in their area, opt for not to separate the garbage in an appropriate way. The world is also in their hands, but they do not seem to be aware of that.

Even in the most disheartening scenario, we can see this as an opportunity to be pioneers in our communities, in our schools, in our own homes to revert this general trend. As I said in the beginning, it is all about changing the culture.

I will extend myself in this point talking about my own experience, so you can see how I changed the culture in one of the places I worked for previously.

Company X hired me to determine why the salt emissions were so high in the effluent of their wastewater treatment plant. My job consisted of three basic points:

Ð'* Take water samples and analyze them

Ð'* Determine where were the critical sections

Ð'* Design a plan to solve the problem

After a couple of months working there, I could find why the salt levels were so high, but before starting with the last task, I wanted to understand very well the correlations among the rest of the pollutants, and how I could figure out something that could reduce the overall contamination level, making the final effluent much better than it actually was.

Their manufacturing process is focused on ham and sausages, so their raw material was pork meat. Once the different products were elaborated, they were baked in an oven and after that, the final products were chilled using cold brine. The waste brine joined the unused raw materials at some point downstream, so I suggested separating the brine there and distillate it (separate water from salt for being reused).

Once I finished with that part, I submerged in the creation of some novel technique to reduce the impact of the rest of the pollutants outside the wastewater treatment plant. The company's owners are mainly concerned with "profit maximization" so I needed to be creative enough to attract them toward the idea of getting benefits helping at the same time to preserve the environment. I conceived a plan that allowed not only reducing water in almost every single process, but also reducing the pollutant emissions to almost zero. This plan had three essential accomplishments:

Ð'* The amount of "new" water to use was really low (reducing consumption from external sources)

Ð'* The pollutants emission was almost zero (Protecting the final destination of the treatment plant effluent)

Ð'* The reuse of water and salt (making the plant more efficient)

Hopefully you can see that both profit and environment protection could get along very well in my experience (of course it is not always the case). I made the owners aware of their pollution degree, the idea was not only to pay the fine required by law; their responsibility with the community is far beyond that, and I gave them a proposal that could fit my environmental request and could beneficially affect them. It is just a little step, but I am happy to have changed their minds.

Not always everything flows so well, and many times the cost



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