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The Language of Sustainability5 min read

Golf Environment OrganizationAuthor: Golf Environment Organization

Posted on: 2nd Apr 2016

What people understand as ‘sustainable’ is evolving all the time. Our collective knowledge is ever broader and deeper. Individuals and governments are better equipped to identify the real from the perceived. The overall bar of expectation is rising and the ability to articulate the true social and environmental impact of your development has never been more important.

Governments, environmental and community-based organisations around the world are using new tools and concepts to try to determine how much and what forms of economic and leisure development can be deemed ‘sustainable’ in locations. It’s recognised as important for society to try to understand at what point development moves from being beneficial to damaging.

Of course, none of this is an exact science, nor is it rigorously and consistently applied around the world, and much depends on the type of development being considered.

However, the following methodologies are being applied to help stakeholders gain a better understanding of when development will start to exceed the aesthetic, biological, energy, water, social and cultural capacity of our surroundings.


Cumulative Impacts

Cumulative impacts result when the effects of one action are added to or interact with other effects.

For example, several golf developments in close proximity may give rise to significant landscape, ecological or resource effects in combination, when none would have by itself. Analysis of cumulative impacts is important in identifying the carrying capacity of a bio-diverse area under threat by humans, known as a hotspot, to accommodate multiple golf developments. Such analysis can also help reveal appropriate thresholds for sustainable development.

On the other hand, clusters of golf facilities that have been well planned, designed and constructed can help to preserve the landscape and ecosystem fabric of larger units of land, and bring them under conservation-based management for decades and centuries to follow. Golf can be associated positively with increasing the ecosystem and resource-carrying capacity of a region.

Carrying Capacity

Broadly, carrying capacity refers to the amount of an activity or resource use that a system can support sustainably, without showing economic, social and environmental deterioration and decline in the longer term.

This fundamental concept underpins modern-day approaches to sustainable development. Strategic planning now seeks to define the capacity of areas to accommodate various levels of development of different types, and when accumulated.

Carrying capacity studies can be beneficial to developers in anticipating and addressing competition for limited resources and customers. Such studies can also help in phasing development. Energy and water capacities might increase through the use of new technologies, increasing the amount of permitted development.



By better understanding the carrying capacity for golf development for a defined area or region, taking into account its other land and resource use needs, it is possible to
begin to identify thresholds for sustainable development.

Although not usually precise, given the complexity and subjectivity involved, this concept is increasingly tied to strategic land-use planning decisions.

For example, when governments release parcels of land for macro-scale tourism development, they often set a pre-determined ratio for the number of golf courses and density of residential units for that area. Doing so creates a planning framework that protects sensitive and vulnerable ecological and cultural zones. This approach also ensures that soft landscapes will be present amongst harder elements of development.

Threshold-guided plans for development are often of great interest to the local community, which may wish to see economic development and the creation of employment and wealth, but which also wants to protect other valued assets, such as access to green space, protection of historical sites and biodiversity hotspots.

A Common Language for Discourse

In many places where concern about the sustainability of golf development exists, the concepts of cumulative impact, carrying capacity, and threshold level can be used to help understand whether the concerns are legitimate or unfounded. Often people simply want to know that thoughtful consideration of environmental issues has guided the types and overall levels of economic and tourism development.

Within reason, the application of these concepts can help everyone generate an understanding of issues that need to be considered when seeking to evaluate sustainable levels of golf development.


OnCourse® Programme

The benefits of sustainability for golf businesses are beyond question, the hold-up has been simply where and how to start. In part, because of misconceptions that sustainability must first require study, policy writing and a vast amount of planning.  That doesn’t need to be the case. Today there are a few practical tools available that can take the guesswork and hassle out of sustainability.

A good place to dive in is OnCourse®, a free web-based programme that guides you step-by-step, asking the right questions about the key sustainability hotspots around your course, clubhouse, and maintenance facility. OnCourse® will help you tell the story of the good work you’re already doing and enable you to improve; saving time and money, enhancing the natural qualities of your course, and boosting your reputation. Rather than spending a lot of time in discussions, drafting a detailed policy or developing a sustainability plan, your focus can be on actions that bring immediate benefit.

OnCourse® serves as your policy and plan – a statement of your commitment, and the path to accessing all the benefits sustainability can bring. And, if you would like to, you can use your OnCourse® report to qualify you for GEO Certified®, golf’s international ecolabel and a great platform for communications and publicity.

The programme is free, widely endorsed and only takes a few minutes to sign up at

Golf Environment OrganizationAuthor: Golf Environment Organization

GEO is the international not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping the golf community worldwide improve and credibly demonstrate leadership in sustainability. GEO Certified® is golf’s assurance for environmental enhancement and community contribution, recognizing commitment, performance and continual improvement.

Find out more about GEO at

Click Here to Download GEO’s ‘Sustainable Golf Development: Creating a Positive Legacy’ PDF