Sustainability at Your Doorstep

By Ashley L. Camhi

What is sustainability, anyway?

I am going to answer the question that I’ll bet you’ve either asked someone or someone has asked you in the last year: “What does sustainability mean?” Being the Executive Director of the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, I should be able to answer that question.

What if I were to tell you that sustainability is the opposite of climate change. Would you believe me? The reason some people find the concept of climate change so difficult to grasp is because you can’t feel it and you can’t see it. You may know it is happening, but you feel powerless to do anything about it.

On the other hand, sustainability deals with every decision that you make every day. When you fill up your pool and forget to turn off the hose, your monthly water bill is higher than normal. You may think about riding your bike to work, but then decide to drive because you don’t want to risk being hit by a car. You resolve to eat “healthier,” but when you go food shopping, all of the organic fair trade food is much more expensive than what you usually buy, so you decide to save money. Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?

We see and feel sustainability. It’s the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the places we shop, the temperature at which we set our thermostats during the summer, and the laws we enact that govern what we can and cannot do.

Sustainability in Arizona

When you think about states that are sustainable, you might think of Oregon, California or Washington. But would you think of Arizona? Actually, Arizona has the largest school of sustainability in the country as well as sustainability scholars, sustainability commissions, sustainability managers, sustainability officers … well, you get the point.

What surprised me the most since moving to Arizona four years ago, is that one can live sustainably without too much effort. I have met restaurant owners who source their ingredients locally and somehow manage to generate only one bag of garbage a day. I have met residents who have used the little bit of rainfall we get each year to reduce their water bills drastically. I have seen communities take it upon themselves to become energy independent.

Each of us can live more sustainably by paying just a little bit more attention to leaky faucets, taking advantage of the sun to dry our clothes, or trying out that cool new farmer’s market in town.

The truth is that with all of the progress that we, as Arizonans, have made, we still have a hard path ahead of us. The highest percentage of our electricity is from coal (U.S. Energy Information Administration); 1 in 4 children, 1 in 5 adults, and 1 in 7 seniors in Arizona struggle with hunger (Matthew’s Crossing); and the average Arizonan uses 100 gallons of water per day (Arizona Department of Water Resources).

What does this mean for you?

We are all connected, whether we like it or not. Personally, I think it’s great. This interconnection gives us the opportunity to think together about the decisions we make in our day-to-day lives, which will impact Arizona’s sustainability. At the same time, we must realize that those around us may or may not have the same decision-making options that we do.

It really doesn’t take much to change yourself or the environment. Arizonans are very cognizant of the land and its natural resources because we interact with them in a personal way by adapting to low rainfall, high temperatures, and more than our share of sun. We have the power to reduce the number of people who go without access to fresh fruits and vegetables, to create opportunities to be less dependent on fossil fuels and to ensure that there is enough water for future generations. As was previously stated, climate change might feel like a helpless situation, but sustainability is quite the opposite.

This is the first of many articles that will hopefully help you feel a bit closer to living and acting sustainably in Arizona. We will delve into specific sustainability topics related to food systems, energy efficiency, business practices, urban forestry, citywide sustainability initiatives, and other issues generated by readers’ responses to our articles. I hope that you will continue to read our monthly column to learn about how sustainability in Arizona impacts you, and how you can help make this state a more livable place for yourself and everyone around you.

Ashley L. Camhi is the Executive Director of the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, a nonprofit organization whose focus is creating and supporting cutting-edge, project-based sustainability solutions in Arizona. You can contact her at

  1. To sustain is to Maintain! the ability to maintain our current lifestyle without harming the future, Therefore WE are NOT sustaining anything. It is time to move completely away from Sustainability and move towards Regenerative strategies.

    Permaculture has been here for many years, ASU is WAY behind the progressive curve.

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