Sustainability in Poland

Sustainable development concerns each of us. It refers to the relationships between different elements of our surroundings: the economy, our society and the environment. Influencing these relationships at work or in our everyday life, we co-decide the development that takes place around us. Indeed, the media bombard us with news on sustainable development and the related environmental and social issues. Almost all important local, national and international documents invoke this concept, including Polish Constitution and the Treaty on European Union. Increasingly it is also used by businessmen who try to draw our attention to their responsible activities.

But what does sustainable development really mean? To illustrate what it means in practice, and the significance that it has for each of us, we shall use this book as an example. We do not only mean its contents but also the printed book itself as a product that shares many common features with other commodities available in the market.

As with any product, creating this book necessitated acquiring resources from the environment. Among other things, these were used to make paper and printing inks. Their production created pollution to the environment, and there, by means of natural processes, it is being neutralised. Also, this book, just like any other product, will ultimately become waste. On the one hand, this worries us as the book’s authors, but on the other, we simply hope that the paper on which it was printed will be recycled, reducing its direct negative environmental impact. Besides the environment, society also played an important role in the creation of this book, we prepared it with the readers in mind, and we used products made by other people taken from natural resources (computers, other books, and computer networks, etc). We write more about these economy–society–environment interactions in chapter 1.

The book’s impact on our surroundings should be analysed from a broad perspective, treating the book as part of a system of relationships linking the authors and readers, who may use it in various ways. This broad perspective is brought to us by systems thinking (chapter 2) used to analyse the reasons and consequences of our activities and mental models. Therefore, in presenting different aspects of sustainable development, we attempt to justify our mental models, referring to the theoretical foundations of sustainability which we go on to discuss in chapter 3.

A broad perspective on the book requires adopting a product life cycle perspective (chapter 5). The process of production involves the above mentioned use of resources and other ecosystem services, but this also reaches further than we usually tend to think it does. When preparing our chapters, we spent many hours in front of computer screens, using energy. Meetings were also necessary, during which the contents of this book were discussed in detail, leading to pollution related to transportation. For our work, we also needed light in our buildings and the buildings themselves (as we shall see in chapter 6, even in this area we can reduce our impacts, for example by using building materials with certain properties, more effective use of daylight, and better integration of a building into its surroundings).

The process of production requires cooperation with other links in a supply chain (chapter 7). When preparing this book, we attempted to work with local suppliers who were able to provide the desired standard of service or product quality. Choosing paper, we paid attention to its environmental impacts, the book itself is printed on 100% recycled paper and its cover is not coated with plastic foil.

Finally, for two reasons we also decided to publish this book in electronic form: to ensure its high accessibility, and to reduce the above environmental impacts related to print production. The electronic edition permits us to reduce the need for resources at the production stage (although it still requires energy consumption during the phase of use). Another form of increasing the efficiency of utilisation of resources and other ecosystem services in book production is increasing the intensity of its use. Among other places, the book will be available in libraries, where one copy will be shared by many readers so that everybody will have an opportunity to use it, without owning it. Indeed, a similar idea of replacing products with services can be applied in the case of many other objects (chapter 8).

So far, we have paid attention to the so-called direct aspects related to resources and other ecosystem services used directly in the book’s production and use and necessary for its end-of-life management. In the case of a product of this kind, and this book in particular, the indirect aspects may turn out to be more important than the direct ones. These comprise of drawing the readers’ attention to the challenges of sustainable development and providing tools that support the realisation of this concept, aka the ‘solutions’.

This book is both a guide for sustainable development professionals and a handbook for those interested in studying the subject. We hope that it will not only explain and illustrate the issues discussed, but will also be used by practitioners in business, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and, indeed, also by individuals, wanting to undertake activities aimed at sustainable development. If it turns out to be helpful and inspires activity, its indirect positive impact will most probably neutralise the negative consequences of its production.

Both in business and in local authorities, activities aiming at sustainable development should be undertaken within a clear management structure, determining programmes and indicators of their realisation, and highlighting cooperation with various stakeholders. We present this kind of management system separately for companies (chapter 4) and local authorities (chapter 9). In business, such a system refers to the above mentioned direct and indirect aspects or product’s environmental and social impacts throughout its life cycle. In local authorities, it refers to other areas of planning, for example spatial planning which, for environmental and social reasons, should favour higher density, and the use and revalorisation of existing resources (chapter 10). Spatial planning is closely related to the organisation of transport systems (chapter 11). These two areas are complemented by municipal utilities management which should use solutions adapted to local needs and conditions, including ecosystem services (chapter 12). Increasing the efficiency of carrying out public tasks in the areas above, local authorities can be supported by the private sector within a public-private partnership (chapter 13). This highlights the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation for the realisation of sustainable development tasks, alongside the cooperation of business and local authorities with local communities and individuals.

From the point of view of economics, every reader is a consumer. As consumers we make decisions regarding our purchases, and thus about what products and services are delivered to the market. We choose products in paper or electronic version (dematerialised), and it is up to us what happens to a product after the end of its useful life (chapter 14). From the point of view of sociology, both readers and authors are also citizens. As citizens, we live as an integral part of a society, composed of other people. Our linkages with them constitute the social capital that makes taking collective actions possible (chapter 15).

Working on this book, we used and further built on our social capital. The authors include specialists from different disciplines, bridging theory and practice, which simultaneously illustrates the interdisciplinary character of sustainable development. Following this open approach, every reader can contribute to future versions of this book. Thus, we encourage everybody who sees the potential of sustainable development to contact us, both with comments on the book and with regards to various sustainability initiatives. The effects of activities undertaken by readers will determine whether the positive indirect aspects of this book outweigh the negative direct aspects related to its production as noted above.

Before we invite the readers to read the rest of this book, we feel obliged to introduce its contents in a more traditional way. The above description indicates that the book comprises of four parts. The first part presents elementary issues, crucial for the proper understanding of sustainable development. The other three parts refer to practical aspects relating to the implementation of sustainable development in business (part II), local authorities and communities (part III) and by individuals (part IV). To some extent, this division is arbitrary and some topics might also appear in other parts (as reflected in many references to issues presented elsewhere in the book).

The chapters are divided into the following elements.1

  • The main part of each chapter discusses the basic issues related to a given area, identifying the most important challenges and solutions. This is illustrated with numerous international and Polish examples.
  • Tools (symbol T, displayed in boxes within the main part of each chapter) present solutions that support sustainable development, used both in Poland and internationally.
  • Practical resources are meant to help implement solutions referred to in each chapter.
  • Questions are posed to stimulate thinking on the issues discussed and relate them to the reader’s own context.
  • Case studies (symbol C, placed on darkened pages in the end of the chapter) originate from Poland (except from case study 2.C2). They illustrate the challenges for sustainable development and the diversity of solutions that have emerged in respect to them. Each case study is followed by 2–3 questions.

We focus our attention on Poland. Foreign examples are also used to illustrate the important issues related to sustainable development, or as examples of its implementation, which so far are lacking in our country. The 23 case studies and numerous smaller examples spread throughout the book demonstrate that we already have important achievements in this area. For sure, they can inspire further actions, but they also may provide a convincing set of arguments for those who are not yet convinced that sustainable development is possible in Poland or in other Central and East European countries.

1 With the exception of: chapters 2, 4, 8 and 13 which have a practical focus and thus do not have separate tools, and chapter 4 which has a theoretical focus and thus has neither tools nor case studies.