Most of us refer to the term sustainability routinely in our everyday conversations. We define products, services, lifestyles and even people as sustainable or unsustainable.
The concept can get quite a narrow sense in common talk but when digging deeper into it, broader meanings start to unfold. We at 180 Degrees Consulting strive for an extensive understanding of sustainable organisations and development.
THINKING ABOUT THE CURRENT AND FUTURE GENERATIONS
Sustainability is about both smaller and bigger-scale choices and decisions, however, even the smallest choices become part of the accumulating longer-term impacts. By making sustainable choices we meet our current needs while making sure that the future generations will be able to do the same. Sustainability is a lot about thinking long-term.
Along with preserving, it is also important to make improvements for the future. It is hardly big news to anyone that sustainable development is about striving for better solutions. A sustainability-oriented glance seeks to find out what should and could be improved to make our world a better place for all living beings. Therefore, sustainability is also about the global picture.
Even when making choices on a local scale, being sustainable requires thinking globally. We have to think about the impacts of our actions on a global scale because many of our current habits cause environmental harm and human suffering somewhere else.
ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ASPECTS
The principle of profit, people and the planet – more officially defined as the three pillars of sustainability – emphasize the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability. Sustainability is much about reducing emissions and protecting nature in general, however, it is hardly possible to separate the environmental from the economic and social aspects.
Essentially, social sustainability is about identifying and managing impacts of organisations on people. In the current economic system, businesses play a big part and need to address their potential negative impacts on human rights. Our concerns should be particularly focused on people living in poor and otherwise challenging conditions.
Economic development places responsibility on consumers and organisations to reduce the harm their actions are causing to life on Earth. The overall goal is to get our consumption under control. From a production system perspective, this can mean more energy-efficient production.
Economic sustainability discussions also invite us to problematize our current economic system. The big question is whether our current emphasis on economic growth allows us to become more sustainable at all. More sustainable thinking may mean new priorities: challenging and changing what we think is necessary for us.
WATCH OUT FOR GREENWASHING
Some organisations still seem to treat sustainability demands as if they were just a trend. This won’t take them far because unlike trends, the core idea of sustainability is not going to become passé.
Simply put, greenwashing means that organisations invest more money and effort into making people believe that they are being sustainability-conscious than what they invest in actual practices to improve their sustainability. A shiny plastic horn doesn’t turn a horse into a unicorn.
Organisations that intentionally carry our greenwashing aren’t only bamboozling their customers and associates but also potentially hampering further sustainable advancements. Greenwashing takes space from those who actually make an effort to work towards a more sustainable future.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH
We at 180DC work for sustainability-oriented organisations and are good at identifying those with shiny plastic horns. However, we know that an organisation doesn’t need to have supernatural powers to become more sustainable.
What is required is a holistic approach. It means more long-term goals instead of band-aid solutions and quick wins, willingness to learn and to educate, as well as the ability to be critical and rethink our priorities. Sustainability shouldn’t be an added function – it should be incorporated into the business model or in the overall strategy and actions of the organisation. This doesn’t benefit society and the planet alone but also the organisation itself – sustainability is a long-term value that will not go out of fashion.
Master student in Media and Communication at Lund University. The author holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Political Sciences from the University of Helsinki. Anna is a Marketing Director at 180 Degrees Consulting Lund.