There are several, what I would call, buzz words bouncing around. In my last few articles, I have covered some of them, such as carbon net zero and circular economy, this time I want to discuss Sustainability. What is it, why is it important and why is it a buzz word in this present ‘green’ world? We will also discover how carbon net zero, the circular economy and sustainability are very closely linked and related.
Sustainability, What is it?
Sustainability is usually defined as the processes and actions through which humankind avoids the depletion of natural resources, to keep an ecological balance that does not allow the quality of life of modern societies to decrease. Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In this way, the term “sustainability” has been broadly applied to characterize improvements in areas like natural resources overexploitation, manufacturing operations, the linear consumption of products, the direction of investments, citizen lifestyle, consumer purchasing behaviors, technological developments or business and general institutional changes. Consumers and citizens unsatisfied with the long-term damage caused by corporate short-sighted focus on short-term profits, have turned sustainability into a mainstream concept able to ruin a company’s reputation and profits if unaddressed. Today, sustainability is often spoken of with regard to climate change, which threatens life as we know it as is being largely caused by industrial practices. That is one of the reasons why today many companies have corporate responsibility strategies.
The Connection Between Supply, Demand, and Sustainability
The relationship between demand and supply carries the forces behind the allocation of resources. Demand and supply will allocate resources in the most efficient way. The problem is that nowadays we’re going over Earth’s sustainability capacity because we’re “demanding too much”. This demand is happening not only because the population is increasing. It is also influenced by mass production. Sustainability is spoken in terms of the supply chain, companies should be concerned about the sustainability of their suppliers’ processes.
Technology: Examples of What Is Sustainability In Technology
The use of electronic devices is growing every day. Nonetheless, these devices are made of Earth minerals extracted by the mining industry. Mining can be a very polluting industry and the development of new sites certainly has an impact on deforestation. Therefore, being sustainable in the tech field has a lot to do with using your devices for a long period – so if you want to be sustainable resist switching your smartphone every other year! It is also about making sure you dispose of them in a responsible way as can be very polluting if not handled properly.
Fashion: Examples of Sustainability In Fashion
The problem with this industry is its negative environmental impact. On one hand, fast-growing cotton generally requires the use of industrial, toxic chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) that often causes soil pollution and depletion and water eutrophication. On the other hand, there’s a lot of textile waste and many clothes are made of synthetic fibers which, while being washed, escape to the ocean as microplastics. If a company makes clothes with resistant materials, uses sustainably produced cotton, applies circular economy principles across its value chain and uses less toxic chemicals: it is being responsible with the environment. These would be an example of sustainability within the fashion industry. At the same time, sustainability is also about being socially responsible. Overall, the fashion industry isn’t a very responsible. Most labels show that clothes are being made in distant places such as China, Bangladesh or Vietnam. Apart from the pollution of transporting these items, the manpower behind the manufacturing of these clothes is what’s most worrying. People in these countries (often women and children) usually get really low wages and work under bad conditions.
Transportation: What Is Sustainability In Transportation?
14% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from transport and most are mostly due to passenger cars. Contrary to what many believe, planes, cargo ships or even trucks aren’t the main contributors to CO2 emissions. Unless someone is driving a car with 4 or 5 passengers, taking public transportation, especially trains but also buses, are more sustainable choices. Or one can simply walk or cycle it’d be even better. Today, there are even more sophisticated solutions like electric cars (or even hydrogen cars) or electric scooters. At the same time, solutions like carpooling are great alternatives. In addition, the fact that more companies are letting their employees work from home saves polluting miles.
Zero Waste As An Example Of Sustainability
Zero-waste encourages people to use all types of resources in a circular way, just like the natural world does. Therefore, the ultimate goal is to avoid resources that end up as trash in the oceans or landfills. For this, people must refuse what they don’t need, reduce what they’re getting, reuse it and recycle or compost it.
Food and Agriculture: Examples of Sustainability In the Food Sector
A company that tries to grow its crops by not using (or using few) toxic pesticides, focusing instead on organic farming and biomimicry practices is certainly a less polluting one. If it pays fair wages to its employees and manages to still be competitive on the market, it is then being responsible when it comes to profit, people and planet.
Workplace: Examples of Sustainability at the Workplace Workplaces can also be organized in sustainable ways. For instance, companies investing in new technologies, becoming paperless or providing conditions and training for employees to recycle are being careful about waste management. At the same time, not asking air-conditioners for very extreme temperatures, opening the blinds when there’s sunlight and avoiding plastic cutlery are also good ways to have a sustainable workplace. But there is nothing like having a sustainability mindset right at the heart of an organization’s core operations and creating a sustainability strategy that measures impacts and creates mitigation solutions.
Operations and Value-Chains: Where’s the Sustainability?
Companies could install solar panels and power its operations with this energy. The raw materials used, how they are sourced and from where. Whether products are designed with eco-design principles in mind or distribution optimization are also areas with for room for improvement when it comes to sustainability.
A Company’s Strategy: Where Is Its Sustainability?
A company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a strategy that integrates the policies and practices firms wanting to create value on their triple bottom line (people, planet, profit). So besides taking care of their workplaces and trying to be eco-friendly along their value-chain, companies with a sustainability mindset are also concerned about social issues like gender equality, happiness at the workplace or taking care of the communities affected by their activities. At the same time, they don’t underestimate the financial side of the business, where profit is a basic condition for organizations to survive – yet, it’s not the main reason or the main purpose why these businesses exist.
Sustainable Cities: What Does It Mean To Be a Sustainable City?
Sustainable cities can be considered as cities that have strong social, economic and environmental performances. They have good scores when it comes to air pollution, availability of public transportation, the number of educated and employed people, the percentage of green spaces, energy consumption, or access to drinking water.
Waste Management: Is There Sustainability In Waste Management?
A factory that takes proper care of its industrial waste and doesn’t drop it in a nearby river or land is acting in a sustainable way. In fact, this factory is being responsible for avoiding the short-term costs of damaging disposal that could have expensive and impactful long-term environmental damage. At the same time, companies looking for less polluting packaging alternatives are also good sustainability models to follow. Since plastics are polluting land and seas and harming ecosystems and biodiversity, it’s a good idea that businesses invest in new designs that allow products to be more resistant and even re-manufactured. On top of this, if biodegradable materials are being used, even better.
So, what can you and I do? How can we live a more sustainable lifestyle?
1. Save energy: By using less energy, you can help to reduce carbon emissions. Switch off standby appliances, turn your heating down and hanging clothes to dry instead of using a drier.
2. Eat less meat: The production of meat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and the pollution of landscapes and waterways. By eating less of it, you can help to reduce the impact the meat industry has on the Earth.
3. Use reusable alternatives: Single-use products, particularly plastic ones, tend to end up in landfill and the ocean, causing harm to wildlife and the environment. Prevent this by choosing to use reusable and eco-friendly alternatives instead.
4. Go paperless: Avoid wasting paper, choose to receive letters over email and only print off documents if necessary.
5. Use renewable energy: If possible, consider powering your home using renewable energy to reduce the amount of carbon emissions you produce. Replacing your petrol or diesel-fuelled car with an electric one would also help to achieve this!
6. Recycle and reuse: Make sure you’re recycling by putting your rubbish in the correct bins. Also, try to reuse products and items as many times as possible before binning them to reduce waste.
7. Grow your own produce: By growing your own fruit and vegetables, you can ensure you’re not using pesticides that will contribute to water and air pollution. This will also help to reduce the amount fossil fuels used to transport produce to supermarkets.
8. Donate unused items: If you don’t use something give it to a charity shop or someone you know would make use of it to help reduce waste.
9. Save water: Installing a water butt and making use of grey water to avoid wasting drinking water.
10. Buy fair trade products: When a product has been Fairtrade certified it means it has been produced by a company committed to sustainable production. Keep an eye out for the Fairtrade mark on the packaging of products you buy.
11. Drive less: Walk or ride a bike to your destination instead of driving if it’s close enough – it’s better for the environment and your health. Using public transport is another good way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
12. Don't waste food: If you have leftovers, don’t throw them away. Save them for your lunch or tea the next day, or even freeze them. However, if they do go off, use them to create compost for you garden.
13. Wear sustainable clothing: Buy more of your clothes from charity shops and sustainable clothing outlets.
14. Use eco-friendly cleaning products: Some cleaning products contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment. By using green/eco-friendly cleaning products, you can help to prevent these chemicals from having a negative impact on the Earth.