This is the first in a series of posts about incorporating sustainability into your business model by sustainability expert Heather Gadonniex. Stay tuned for weekly, step-by-step tips on how you can Modernize Business Through Sustainable Strategy™.
What Is Sustainability?
What is all this buzz around green anyway? Some choose to think of “green” only in terms of the environment. However, I encourage you to think beyond green and incorporate a social dimension into your green initiatives. This merging of environment, society, and economy brings us to the idea of sustainability. According to Webster’s Dictionary, sustainable means “capable of being sustained.” When we take this definition and apply it to the environment and society, sustainability can mean a multitude of things. We can use it to describe resources used in a way that does not take more from the earth than can be replenished or to describe a company that empowers workers to be innovative and balanced. Sustainability can also describe a society or business that energizes people to be productive contributors to their communities. In short, sustainability is about balancing the intricate cyclic systems of ecology, economy, and society.
By applying the same cyclical approach to our business systems, we can help ensure that we will have a continuous supply of resources, rather than depleting them and leaving nothing but waste. Instead of devouring resources and leaving nothing useful afterward, we want to return those resources to the cycle so they can continue to be productive. For example, when we use water, instead of polluting it with waste products so that it is no longer usable, we want to be aware of what we mix into our water supply and clean it before we put it back into the system. This protects our neighbors as well as our planet. We can replicate this idea with any resource we use, including human capital.
Why Sustainability Is Important
Business has thrived for the past 150 years by feeding natural resources such as water, oil, coal, and agricultural products into our economy. However, the process of retrieving those elements from the earth has often created waste products and pollution. In addition, human life and education have been devalued, contributing to increasing societal and health issues. Today, we are beginning to see the real cost of depleting our natural resources and discarding the by-products. We are also realizing the inherent value in maintaining a positive, productive workforce.
Today’s global population is estimated to be just over 6.7 billion people. Over the last two centuries, the global population has skyrocketed, and global trends show that it will continue to rise at a rapid rate. To put that into perspective, according to NOVA science programming, the population of the earth in 1927 was around two billion. Until around 1950, the population growth rate remained steady at around 1 percent per year. About this time, advances in public health, including the use of antibiotics, allowed for longer life spans, adding to the population issue. By 1960, the global population reached roughly three billion. In the past 50 years, the global population has increased by almost four billion people, and by the year 2050, it is expected to hit nine billion. Our planet and societal systems will have to provide for nearly three billion more people than they do now – three billion more people who want to live without resource restriction.
All of these factors – resource depletion, increased population, and increased perceived need for commodity items – present a risk for those doing business as usual. Is your business ready to take on the challenges and opportunity of incorporating sustainability into its organization? Stay tuned for weekly “how to” posts and prepare your organization for the New Economy.