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True sustainability requires cross-jurisdictional and -functional solutions, a tough proposition for a nation that so highly values self-determination.

Is the United States capable of environmentally beneficial long-term infrastructure services? Can a nation with so many and sometimes overlapping levels of government manage a finite resource — such as water — without conflict?

Is the average person interested in learning why a two-year-old road is scheduled for repair before his pothole-pitted street? Does he care what happens to his garbage? How long will it be before your community must weigh the environmental degradation caused by road salt against the loss of a human life?

Can a capitalistic society force manufacturers to sacrifice profit margin by requiring them to help dispose of their product? If not, are consumers willing to pick up the slack? Does the resident complaining about his “rain tax” understand why his community formed a stormwater utility?

Does he know that we've demanded that our elected representatives enact laws to make rivers and lakes safe to swim and fish in? Our tap water nontoxic?

Can farmers make a living without constantly resupplying depleted soil with nitrogen and phosphorus?

Did you know that half of San Diego's residents say they'd drink treated wastewater if it meets safety standards? Does the average sewer and water customer know that a lot of treated effluent is cleaner than the body of water to which it's discharged?

How many residents would pay a little extra every month so their local drinking or wastewater treatment plant can install more energy-efficient equipment? How many of your employees wouldn't feel threatened by a major upgrade?

Is everyone on your team willing to explore alternatives outside his or her comfort zone? Are you? Do your elected officials solicit your advice? Do they hear you?

Can the social animal homo sapiens resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon when everybody else is? Who has the authority to slow things down so stakeholders can consider the long-term ramifications of the latest fad? Is raising the issue worth the possibility of losing your job?

How does one discuss the concept of “sustainability” with a class of professionals whose entire career is devoted to making the most of limited resources? Without insulting them, that is.

What do you think? Let me know at sjohnston@hanleywood.com.

- Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief