“Something huge is going to have to give. The energy- and material-rich lifestyle that people in the developed world enjoy simply can’t last, and the lifestyle that people in developing regions might aspire to will never happen, without a concerted effort by the global community to start living within the planet’s means. Either we find ways to run our societies without squandering natural resources and degrading the environment, or we will foist dire consequences on ourselves for generations to come. The first option requires the world to embrace sustainability.

The concept of sustainability, which traces its roots back to the earliest days of human culture, is easy to describe: A sustainable global society is one in which people today meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to live equally well.

Our collective fate will come down to our ability to shift the way we produce and consume electricity and fuels and the way we design and use chemicals and the materials made from them. An ineluctable truth for the chemical enterprise is that this task will require thousands of innovations. The multiple pathways we will need to realize these innovations will have to be built by improving the efficiencies of current technologies, creating myriad new technologies, and recycling like never before.

But knowing what it will take to gain some measure of sustainability is far more difficult than citing a definition because sustainability is not a final destination. Sustainability instead can be thought of as a general direction in which we all must be traveling. It is a moving target influenced by resource availability, environmental impacts, and unforeseen obstacles.

Building those pathways will require not only accelerating the rate of innovation but also creating pragmatic social partnerships between scientists and engineers, research funding agencies, entrepreneurs, product developers, manufacturers, consumers, consumer advocates, regulators, environmental activists, and educators. Together, we will have to work through the multiple dimensions of human societies—technological, environmental, economic, political, and cultural—to ensure that food, water, medicines, electricity, fuels, and materials can be delivered wherever and whenever needed. That is what it will take to conquer the sustainability challenge…”

[Read more here: Callling all Chemists via C&EN]

The rest of the article covers green chemistry & engineering.

“GOVERNMENT” and “sustainability” aren’t words often uttered in the same breath. Yet from towns and counties to states to federal agencies, and even at the United Nations, governments are grappling with how to integrate environmental concerns into policies that affect people and the economy…

[More on government policies here: Sticks and Carrots via C&EN]