The term sustainability can be defined as meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Additionally, there are three pillars relating to this concept which are social, environmental and economic. The social pillar expresses the importance of maintaining relationships and engaging with sustainability in social situations. In a broader sense, having good faith with your actions is key to practicing social sustainability. For example, maintaining relationships specifically within a group collaborative assignment is demonstrating good faith in social situations by respecting everyone’s thoughts and opinions which will shape the way the assignment will be viewed. Being economically sustainable is another important aspect in regards to sustainability, this can be understood as using and creating resources intelligently without sacrificing future access to these resources. This is directly related to environmental sustainability which focuses on interacting with your environment responsibly to successfully avert the depletion of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental quality. To illustrate, being sustainable in regards to our environment is extremely important to avoid greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and unsustainable energy usage. There is a strong correlation between sustainability and literature, specifically literature classes. In class, we become informed about what is going on in the world as well as what has taken place in the past. Reflecting on these events makes us more informed about the issues going on around us, where we then can use that information to make effective decisions to better our environment for future generations to come. This allows us to shape our future actions and thoughts which will hopefully result in a sustainable environment.
Although it is not the literal meaning of the work, chapter ten of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man tackles several potential issues in not acting in a way that aligns with the pillars of sustainability. Firstly, it shows a prime example of a dysfunctional workplace. Right from the start, the reader sees there is no cohesion in the paint company the main character applies to, with new workers referring to the main character’s boss as “the colonel” (Ellison, 3). Later on, we see a clear conflict between Mr. Brockway, the main character’s new boss, and a union within the company, a feud which sends Mr. Brockway into a fit of rage (Ellison, 24). These two conflicts show a breakdown of the social pillar. The relationships within Liberty Paints are shown as fragile and tense, lacking any good faith and creating a tense work environment. This is not manageable, and will continue to exist at the company, and every new hire will experience this hostility. Another potential problem in practicing sustainability is shown through the company’s hiring practices. At one point, a character states that higher-ups at the company are avoiding union wages by firing current workers, and instead hiring young black college workers (Ellison, 2). By doing this, the business is forsaking workers who have experience, and getting rid of old values and knowledge within the company. This shows a clear motivation of profit behind the company, prioritizing lower wages over experienced workers, and shows that the economic pillar is trumping the rest of the goals for the company. The result of these failures? The author has a clear idea of what happens as a result of not acting carefully. At the end of the story, due to an argument between the main character and his boss, one of the tanks in the basement explodes. Simply put, although the message is not literally “act sustainably or explode,” the disaster is figurative. If businesses and society as a whole do not act in this way, disaster will strike.
The company’s failure to implement the three pillars into their work successfully is what ultimately led to the destruction of their company; specifically, their failure to maintain a strong social pillar. Throughout the chapter, we are reminded of the constant tension between Mr. Kimbro and Mr. Brockway. The two men saw themselves as very prominent members of the company and prioritized proving their individual importance within the company. Mr. Brockway in particular, emphasized the importance of his work in the production of the paint, “He spat on the floor and laughed. “Heh, heh, heh, he was a fool, that’s what. A fool! He wanted to boss me and I know more about this basement than anybody, boilers and everything” (Ellison, 17). Mr. Kimbro can be seen expressing similar thoughts, “He snatched up several of the later samples, smearing them, and letting out a groan. ‘Of all the things to happen to me. First, they take all my good men and then they send me you. What’d you do to it?’” (Ellison, 7). Both men are complaining about the actions of other members within the company. Mr. Brockway calls Mr. Kimbro “a fool” for trying to fire him, while Mr. Kimbro blames the men responsible for hiring the main character for the mistakes the main character made. The problem is that both men are too caught up in their belief that their decisions and actions are superior, instead of looking to improve the company and their paint as a whole. Working only towards individual success will not allow for sustainability to be reached. With good faith being key to practicing social sustainability, it is clear here that the men are administering bad faith through their actions and even words towards other members working for the company. This idea suggests that in order for an institution to be successful, individual actions must reflect the overall goal the institution is trying to achieve.
Furthermore, we were able to gain multiple new perspectives immediately following our reading of Penniman’s Farming While Black and our exploration of the Heating Plant on campus. During our visit to the Heating Plant, we learned about the importance of maintaining sustainability throughout the entire facility. With that being said, every worker must be trained and well versed with the processes and machines within the plant. Within the Heating Plant, there is an organized and effective schedule/process that is used which leads to their success and sustainability. The Geneseo Heating Plant implements the three pillars of sustainability by ensuring that they are not putting too much steam into a building that could negatively affect the people in it. The plant is environmentally sustainable by shutting down the plant at the end of the year, “as soon as everyone throws their caps in the air, we start our shutdown process” (Steven Morse). This further proves that they’re environmentally aware of the effects their plant has on the environment. However, quite the opposite is seen at the paint company in the text Invisible Man. This company is seen not practicing sustainability or good faith practices, which ultimately leads to the explosion of their plant. The concept of sustainability was also heavily discussed within Penniman’s text, Farming While Black. Penniman dives into environmental sustainability by taking care of the soil and making sure it’s still usable. This is possible through soil tests, which Penniman details the importance of in chapter five of his work. His work also reminds readers of the connection between sustainability and literature by providing us with the proper information to successfully create a sustainable future. Similar to the Heating Plant, Penniman’s text also considers the significance of the three pillars by alluding to the social pillar of sustainability in his third chapter titled “Honoring the spirits of the land.” This chapter discusses social sustainability in terms of respecting the land, acknowledging the culture of the land, and exploring how good faith plays a role in sustainability.
The whole Geneseo community, as well as others, should care about the topic of sustainability. Specifically, because it is stated within Geneseo’s values that “Sustainability: Building a culture of well-being that integrates and applies principles of environmental, social, and economic stewardship informed by an understanding of the past and our obligations to the future” (Geneseo, 2022). Geneseo as a school is “guided by our beliefs and commitments” to this value. When it comes to our work in this class, sustainability and Black literature are key to helping us understand our past actions (whether they are ours or a long time ago in history) in order to better ourselves in the future. In other words, learning from our mistakes. This is what we believe this course, as well as Geneseo, are trying to teach us. We saw an example of all three pillars of sustainability being demonstrated to us when our class visited the Heating Plant, “the Heating Plant unit is charged with the responsibility of providing service utilities in an economic, efficient, safe and timely manner” (Geneseo Campus Utilities-Heating Plant). We learned through this visit that the staff is dedicated to ensuring that all the students and staff are comfortable in their dorms, classrooms and extracurriculars. We also learned that the Heating Plant will be turned off on a specific day in order to save energy. The Heating Plant staff informed us that they only use steam rather than gas because of technological advancements as well as providing a safer environment for all. If we go back to the beginning of the semester to our discussion on the text, On Repetition in Black Culture Dr. McCoy restated a paragraph we were discussing by saying “everything that’s new is a revision of something that has already existed” (McCoy 2/7). This quote relates to our understanding of sustainability because like the Heating Plant, there will always be advancements made whether it’s technological, social, economical, or environmentally. When exploring sustainability and Black literature we are making informed decisions that allow us to shape our future actions and thoughts which will hopefully result in a sustainable environment.
Written by Ben Timmons, Jordie Slobodow, Jeremy McCarthy, Amanda Neri, Haylee Evertsen, Emily McIntosh