Sustainability is much more than just climate change, so what is Sustainability and how does it affect you?
Working as a sustainability consultant, I am often asked, “What is Sustainability, and how does it affect me”. Then the discussion often turns to the topic of climate change (global warming), with the misconception that Sustainability is only about climate change. When I start to explain such things as preservation of natural resources, environmental degradation, and social issues, people are often amazed and begin to change their thinking from a stigmatized negative view to a positive outlook. They realize that sustainability is a broad topic that does affect them, and they will often ask me, “How can I be more sustainable and contribute to preserving our planet?”.
Unfortunately, the topic of Sustainability has been politicized, and the word itself has become stigmatized. It has been spoken of in terms of climate change being a hoax, and that it is an unnecessary expense for businesses. The misinformation is funded by interest groups that are backed by MNCs in certain fields, mainly oil companies. They want to preserve the status quo to retain their finances, without any repercussions or consequences while discarding the fact that the consequences not only affect them, but our planet as a whole. They have even gone so far as to fund scientists to go against the research and make up data to show climate change is a hoax when in fact, it is not.
A great book on this topic is Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming co-authored by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway. This book goes into ‘brutal clarity’ of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over the last four decades. One of the executives made a comment that ‘Doubt is our product’ with this doubt being supplied by these ‘experts’. It is a must-read book for anyone that wants to know the truth about by there is climate change denial and why it has been publicized.
While Climate Change is a very important topic, that PSCG has discussed in previous articles, there are other topics that are just as important. These topics range from environmental degradation, preservation of natural resources, food security, social issues, and gender equality. These are just some of the topics that make up the broad subject of Sustainability. So what is Sustainability?
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability has been defined as economic development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, preserving natural resources without depleting all of them, so that future generations do not have resources. Traditionally, business as usual was conducted as if there are infinite resources, even though we live in a finite world. There is a trend amongst many businesses to change this old way of thinking, but there is more work to be done.
The depletion of natural resources occurs when resources are consumed at a faster rate than their replacement. Natural resources are those resources that are in existence without human actions, and they can either be renewable or non-renewable.
When it gets down to the discussion of natural resource depletion, it is a term used in reference to water usage, farming, fossil fuel consumption, fishing, and mining. And above all, natural resource depletion is defined on the premise that the value of a resource is measured in terms of its availability in nature.
The preservation of natural resources is not the only aspect of sustainable development. There are three pillars of sustainable development that every company should hold on to. These three pillars are: Economic, Environmental, and Social. Sustainable development requires that a company must contribute to economic growth, social progress and promote environmental sustainability.
Economic sustainability refers to practices designed to create the long-term economic development of a company or nation while also managing the environmental, social, and cultural aspects of its activities. It is about balancing economic growth and generating profit with the impact on the environment and people.
Economic sustainability is important for a business because it cannot achieve long term growth if it exhausts natural or human resources. Business today can no longer harm the environment or their communities to deliver ongoing economic growth, because to continue to do so creates conditions that destabilize the context in which the business operates
Environmental sustainability is the responsibility to conserve natural resources and protect global ecosystems to support health and wellbeing, now and in the future. Because so many decisions that impact the environment are not felt immediately, a key element of environmental sustainability is its forward-looking nature. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines it as “meeting today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
One of the biggest problems that Environmental Sustainability addresses is pollution. Due to human activity, water and air quality has diminished significantly. Exposure to air pollution can affect everyone’s health. When we breathe in air pollutants, they can enter our bloodstream and contribute to coughing or itchy eyes and cause or worsen many breathing and lung diseases, leading to hospitalizations, cancer, or even premature death.
Both short-term and long-term exposure to air pollutants can cause a variety of health problems. For people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD/emphysema or chronic bronchitis), air pollution can make it harder to breathe, trigger asthma attacks, or cause wheezing and coughing. Air pollution also increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, and more severely affects people who are already ill.
People’s health risks from air pollution vary widely depending on age, location, underlying health, and other factors. Many studies show that low-income communities and minority populations are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and are more vulnerable to adverse health impacts.
Water pollution is also another serious problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that polluted water is water whose composition has been changed to the extent that it is unusable. In other words, it is toxic water that cannot be drunk or used for essential purposes like agriculture, and which also causes diseases like diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and poliomyelitis that kill more than 500,000 people worldwide every year.
The main water pollutants include bacteria, viruses, parasites, fertilizers, pesticides, pharmaceutical products, nitrates, phosphates, plastics, fecal waste and even radioactive substances. These substances do not always change the color of the water, meaning that they are often invisible pollutants. That’s why small amounts of water and aquatic organisms are tested to determine water quality.
Water pollution also has a large effect on the ecosystem. It can cause massive loss of marine life, bleach reefs, and create dead spots in the ocean. Reefs help to protect the mainland from harsh weather conditions and can lessen the effects of storms like hurricanes. As more reefs are bleached resulting in the loss of aquatic life, hurricanes become more deadly on the mainland. This results in flooding displacement of humans, and destruction of cities.
Another aspect of sustainability which is often overlooked is Social Sustainability. Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. The quality of a company’s relationships and engagement with its stakeholders is critical. Directly or indirectly, companies affect what happens to employees, workers in the value chain, customers and local communities, and it is important to manage impacts proactively.
Businesses’ social license to operate depends greatly on their social sustainability efforts. In addition, a lack of social development, including poverty, inequality, and weak rule of law, can hamper business operations and growth.
At the same time, actions to achieve social sustainability may unlock new markets, help retain and attract business partners, or be the source for innovation for new product or service lines. Internal morale and employee engagement may rise, while productivity, risk management and company-community conflict improve.
The principles upon which this pillar is founded are as follows:
- Combat social exclusion and discrimination:helping with reintegration, supporting gender equality, reducing the gender pay gap, promoting training, encouraging dialogue, and applying global social rights. In other words, the goal is to seek to aid the global population.
- Promote solidarity: helping to reduce social inequalities by collaborating with local and international associations and projects, and prioritizing fair trade products which guarantee an appropriate income for farmers and help to promote sustainable agriculture.
- Contribute to the well-being of stakeholders: developing social dialogue, encouraging the exchange of information and transparency, adapting working hours according to employee profile, and making premises accessible to people with reduced mobility.
How does a lack of sustainable development practices effect you?
Human wellbeing is closely linked to the health of the environment. Around the world, 24% of deaths can be traced back to avoidable environmental factors, according to the World Health Organization. People need clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, and places to live that are free of toxic substances and hazards.
Some of effects on humanity and our planet due to a lack of businesses following sustainable business practices are as follows:
- Drinking water shortage. Food Shortage. Famine.
- Less Transportation. Smaller economies. Higher prices.
- Soil erosion, Global Warming caused by the rise of greenhouse gases- Extinction of species and loss of biodiversity. Flooding and drought.
- Increase in disease and infant mortality.
Each of these points require an article for further explanation, which PSCG plans to address in further detail in the future. However, we do not want to leave you with a feeling of dread but instead hope that there is something that you can do your part to help change the current projection of our planet. Every person can live a more sustainable lifestyle.
How you can make a difference.
It may seem like there is nothing you can do as an individual to stop the factors that are depleting our natural resources. But you can do something. If every person contributed to the conservation of our natural resources and reducing their CO2 emissions footprint, we can make a difference.
- Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by buying energy efficient appliances.
- Cycle, walk or use public transportation whenever possible.
- Save trees by going paperless or by using only recycled products.
- Plant a tree wherever you can.
- Participate in tree conservation projects.
- Turn off all appliances when not in use.
- Conserve Electricity
- Fix leaky faucets and use recycled water for flushing your toilet.
- Stop polluting the ocean.
- Harvest rainwater when you can. You can use it for cleaning or watering your plants.
- Encourage friends, family, and employers to practice sustainable practices.
There is a lot of work to be done, we are in an uphill battle to change our current conditions. It might seem like an impossible task, especially with the intense climate change that has never been seen before. If each one of us is dedicated to making a change, that together we can save the planet, not only for ourselves, but for our future progeny. Are we going to step up to the challenge, or will future generations see us as a people that could have made the planet a better place, but instead made it difficult for future generations, and seen as the generation that caused widespread environmental and climate disasters that future generations will suffer from?
Pearce Sustainability Consulting Group (PSCG) is an Award-Winning Boutique Consulting Firm based out of Redding, California, with offices in the State of Georgia, Tunisia, and expansion plans into Dubai and Qatar. Wealth & Finance International’s 2023 Business Management Awards named PSCG as the Best Sustainability Consulting Firm – California 2023.