In today’s professional world we are surrounded by dozens of buzzwords for a new age; this is especially true when we throw around words and phrases such as “green”, “eco-friendly”, “renewable” and so on. One of the biggest buzz words in modern personal life and business is, as relates to going green, is “sustainability”. But what does sustainability really mean, both environmentally and as relates to business? Let’s take a look.
What does “Sustainable” Mean? The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines sustainability as creating and maintaining the natural conditions within nature that we need for our own human survival. The EPA asserts that sustainability strives to help nature and people coexist in “productive harmony,” in a way that allows people to meet all of our economic and social needs now and into the future. The future… that is one of the most important concepts of sustainability, the idea that we need to make changes now to live in a way that is sustainable so that the Earth can provide us the resources that we need to be healthy and productive, but also so that the planet can continue to provide these resources to future generations indefinitely.
Why is Sustainability a Concern Today? Rapid population growth, which of course leads to economic growth and an increase in human consumption of natural resources, has, according to the EPA, lead to concerns about whether the modern human experience is sustainable into the future. Our behaviors have lead to climate changes and has caused some climatologists to predict that these changes will get worse and go on to include the spread of global warming, increased disease, rising sea levels and animal extinctions. What we know for certain is that our current behavior and level of resource consumption is not sustainable; we must make changes to guarantee that future generations have the resources that they need to maintain the human lifestyle.
How does One become Sustainable? Sustainability, as the term is used today, refers to at least two things, most commonly. It refers specifically to the above discussed environmental resources, as we seek to make the human experience more sustainable as it relates to the planet’s resources. But the term also refers to how businesses can become sustainable, using certain practices to make their company’s future sustainable and green.
One way that we do this is by looking at how a company can utilize resources for production and services that are reusable. For example, restaurants recycling their used vegetable oil so that it can replace petroleum as a main ingredient in fuel is a great example of sustainable business: it saves the restaurant disposal costs and turns what would otherwise be a waste product into something usable. Imagine if we could find a useful way to use all of our business waste products how much we could reduce landfill waste and how much money businesses could save. Add to this the fact that many of these changes are more healthful for the environment (for example, burning the bio-fuel created by used vegetable oil does not pollute like burning petroleum based fuel), and you have true sustainability.
What Does Sustainability Mean to You The true question really becomes what sustainability means to you, as an individual or as a business owner. It is up to each person to decide that working towards a sustainable future where alternative energy resources replace our petroleum consumption, to reduce our waste to landfills and so forth is a worthwhile investment of our time, money and intellectual capital. By taking small steps today we can start down the road to sustainability. If we do nothing then the time will come when sustainability is a requirement, when we run out of oil or lumber, when the Earth is so polluted that we can’t breathe… at that point we will be forced into some type of action that will be more expensive, more difficult and take longer to see results. However, if we start to incorporate sustainable practice into our lives and businesses today we can make steady steps towards a cleaner future, where our children and our children’s children can continue to live in harmony with the environment.