What Sustainability means to the Golf Course Management Business

Lately the word Sustainability has been tossed around like a garden salad, what does Sustainability really mean? We know golf course clientele’ desire attractive, playable, green spaces, while according to non-golf public opinion, golf courses are a meaningless waste of resource and space. Sustainability in golf course management seems like an oxymoron.

First let’s figure out what Sustainability means
By all accounts, the modern sense of the word entered the lexicon in 1987 with the publication of Our Common Future, by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland commission after its chair, Norwegian diplomat Gro Harlem Brundtland). That report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
The above definition says nothing about green, greening the environment, preserving nature or protecting the environment, even though the words “sustainable” and “sustainability” come flowing from the mouths of over zealot environmentalists as often as a hummingbird flaps their wings.
Paul Hawken, the author of Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw it Coming said, “We have an economy where we steal the future, sell it in the present, and call it GDP (Gross Domestic Product).” How’s that for leveraging the next generation.

New Technology is Great but Sustainability May be at our Doorstep
It often takes a creative thinker such as Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi. Agassi wants to electrify the world’s automobiles, not by inventing a battery that gets 200 miles on a charge but by inventing a better system for allowing drivers go as far as they want - without recharging. His proposal, which has been adopted on a pilot basis by Israel and Denmark, would create battery exchange stations along highways, analogous to the propane canister exchanges that people now use for barbecue grills. What do you do if you are on the road and your battery is running low? You pull into a station, your dead battery is swapped for a fully charged one and you’re on the road again in a few minutes.
“He’s delivering distance, not better batteries,” says Mark Lee, CEO of the London consulting firm SustainAbility. Also, said Lee, “There’s an Italian public utility that’s selling its customers hot water, not energy to heat water. It’s a different way of measuring, and it gives the company an incentive to be more efficient so it can be more profitable.”
In the golf business the automated robotic greens mower and underground soil monitors are technologies that can be sustainability related.

The Meaning of Sustainability
Thus, “sustainability” is not the same as “green”, although there’s a fair amount of overlap between the terms. With some six billion people on the planet today (May, 2009), and another three billion expected by the middle of the century, society cannot hope to give them a comfortable standard of living without a heavy dependence on technology.
How can golf course managers better use our resources, not just recycle, reuse and reduce, we all know those tired old terms by now. We should all consider new ideas, for instance, treating our properties as self-sustaining entities. Could we grow fruits and vegetables for the club on property? Make certain that we plant indigenous perennial plants on the course (less waste than annuals flowers). The water we use to irrigate turf and drainage from rainfall should and could be stored on property and reused as an irrigation source. Tree trimmings and turf clippings should be composted and redistributed on the property. I think we’re talking about as little brought in and as little take off of our individual golf course property. That, my friend, is the true meaning of sustainability.

Sustainability is a Population Problem
At the end of the day every environmental and sustainability problem is a population problem. If the world’s population were only 100 million people, it would be difficult to generate enough waste to overwhelm nature’s cleanup systems. We could deposit all our trash in remote area, and let nature take its course. Furthermore, our energy sources would certainly not be taxed with 100 million people.
The U.N. projects that the planet will have to sustain another 2.6 billion people within the next forty years. But even at today’s population level of 6.5 billion, we’re using up resources at a dramatically unsustainable rate. There is no way to reduce the population significantly without infringing on individual rights (as China has done with its one-child policy). The only logical proposal is focusing directly on less wasteful use of resources, “SUSTAINABILY”.
So now we have some history, a definition and the sad facts. Let’s put our heads together and figure out how to solve our sustainability issues. It all should begin on a local level, in our beautiful green back yards.