What is sustainability?
“Sustainability” seems to be the latest fad among corporate speak and corporate bigwigs often employ the word when addressing shareholders or the media alike. However, contrary to its current ubiquity in the media or being discussed at length during annual shareholders’ meetings, the very essence of “sustainability” precisely hinges on its ability to outlast its status of being the latest buzzword. So, what exactly does “sustainability” mean?
In its simplest form, “sustainability” means doing things in a certain way which would meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. Some people equate sustainability with dealing with climate change, some with reducing carbon emissions and some with switching to renewable energy sources. It is the sum of everything stated above and more.
Sustainability rests not solely on the shoulders of governments, corporations and non-government organizations. In fact, everyone has an equally important role to play in sustainability because Earth is the only home we know and have.
To understand sustainability more comprehensively, it is divided into 3 pillars: Environmental, Economic and Social.
Environmental sustainability is the one most people are familiar with. It simply pertains to the management of Earth’s natural resources, that we take care not to exhaust these resources or destroy the environment in the extraction of these resources; that these resources are not over-extracted to the point that renewing them becomes impossible. For example, at the rate we are currently consuming fossil fuel or cutting down forests to make way for development, these practices are simply not sustainable. The carbon emissions of the former and reduced ability to remove carbon dioxide from the environment due to more deforestation only serve to exacerbate the problem.
Economic sustainability emphasizes business practices that are able to support long-term economic growth and while not compromising social, environmental and cultural aspects of the community. For example, introducing legislation to limit or ban fracking near many residential areas would ensure residents in the area will have access to clean drinking water.
Social sustainability ensures that no one is exploited or discriminated against in the pursuit of profit; that everyone is treated fairly and has access to bare necessities such as clean water, adequate food, healthcare, shelter, and human rights. A good example would be a mass boycott of corporations by consumers and shareholders which exploit child labour or unfair employment practices in impoverished countries.
Collectively, these 3 pillars of sustainability are also known as the Triple Bottom Line. Ethical entities should always account for their triple bottom line, including success metrics to include contributions to environmental health (planet), social well-being (people), and a just economy (prosperity), which is also known as the 3 Ps.
Some may think that the individual would be too powerless to effect any change or influence in the sustainability mindset of governments or corporations. So, how do the everyday person become a crusader in the rescue of the only home they know?
It all starts from being educated (which you are by reading up to here) and also helping to spread the gospel to the uninformed. Be aware and interested to know more about the companies that you buy from. Always support companies that engage in sustainable practices and are reputable and take your dollar votes away from those that do not.
Ultimately, corporations’ main purpose is to generate profits and you, the consumer, would be giving them a very effective message by hurting them where it hurts most – in their pockets. Should enough consumers respond in like manner, this very simple action would generate a whole chain event which would reach all the way to the top of the corporations and force them to relook at their company policies.
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Ho Kah Chuan