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Sustainability – Overused and Undervalued

CCA LiveE | Tuesday December 13th, 2011 | 0 Comments

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

Image by Corine Prothero

By Corine Prothero

Effective sustainability conversations need to be heard everywhere. Select students, communities, grassroots movements, businesses, and government agencies by themselves will not be able to reverse the effects of global warming. It will take a large majority of the world to achieve such victory. It is time for everybody to wake up and acknowledge the current state of the environment, or else our children and children’s children will suffer for our ignorance and complacent behavior. Let us not be perpetrators and accomplices in this environmental damage, but rather advocates and agents for change.

So who are the advocates and change agents?

Established environmental action groups and grassroots movements, such as the NRDC, Sierra Club and Bill McKibben’s Tar Sands Action, promote sustainability efforts. The Keystone XL oil pipeline appeared to be an easy victory for TransCanada until a large pool of Americans joined the Tar Sands Action and united against it. The battle is not over, but people found a way to unite in a common cause. Far too often we support or oppose something passionately but yet feel helpless. Tar Sands Action, just like Occupy Wall Street, connected a large and loud group that is being heard. We need to continue to create and support viral environmental movements. They take time and money, but it is a cause that affects our entire human race – our instinct is to survive, so we all have the same end goal. Now is the time to educate ourselves on how to make our human existence endure healthily and happily.

Students are gaining that sustainability education in universities and technical schools across the globe. While the degree of influence varies by program, sustainability is a growing focus. For examples, Sustainability Schools provides an ever-growing list of these programs.

Many businesses have launched sustainability initiatives including CSR and carbon-reducing programs. Some companies have gone further to build their business around sustainability goals. Method, for example, is going as far as to use plastic trash from the ocean as part of its recycled packaging. TOMS shoes focuses not only on social sustainability, but also on environmental sustainability by using leather-free materials including organic canvas and post consumer recycled plastics. Protecting our environment and human race should be a foundational value held strongly by all businesses, since businesses are comprised of people, and people want to endure. Our country must update legislation to reflect this. Yes, financial return to shareholders is critical, but it is not the only focus. What is prosperity without a human race? Nothing. That is why SROI must be equal, if not more important, than ROI.

Who are the perpetrators and accomplices?

Unfortunately, there are companies that are ignoring their environmental impact and damage, while overusing terms like green and sustainability to appear forward thinking and fool customers. Effective sustainability conversations are not occurring in these “greenwashed” businesses. We must stop tolerating this nonsense and demand better environmental reporting and increased transparency. We must also become smarter consumers – of food, water, material products, news, and so on.

Effective sustainability conversations are also lacking in the US Government. We live in a country in which a conservative presidential candidate cannot mention the environment without damaging his/her campaign, and the EPA has become a GOP target in the 2012 election. The EPA must use its authority to regulate greenhouse gases, without politicians getting in the way.

As I see it, most, if not all, individuals are perpetrators and accomplices of our environmental damage in some way, shape or form, and will continue to be until we change our behaviors and the systems around us. For example, the wastewater and drinking water infrastructures in the US are among the worst in the world with D- ratings by the American Society of Civil Engineers. As consumers of that water, we are part of the problem. We must develop better solutions, advocate for change, and make it happen.

Can we get to where we need to be?

The word sustainability is so overused that it is becoming a cliché, and sadly at the same time, our current environmental sustainability efforts only skim the surface when they should be rapidly and radically reducing our impact on the environment. We must create large-scale environmental change. We collectively must shift our focus onto the environment and reprioritize our values if necessary. Together from there, we, as a human race, are capable of creating the change we so desperately need.


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