I was asked recently if this sustainability movement was over. I have to admit I was puzzled by the question. I asked my friend what he meant? He said, “You know, the leaked climate change emails, the Copenhagen meltdown,the head of the U.N. Climate Chief resigned, and BP, Caterpillar and ConocoPhillips not renewing their memberships in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. With all this bad news doesn’t that make you think that this sustainability thing has ran its course?”
That’s when it hit me. He thinks sustainability is only about climate change!
I told him no, I didn’t think that the sustainability movement was over. Climate change was a part of sustainability, but it wasn’t the sole issue of sustainability. I told him other challenges existed that also needed to be addressed in order to provide his company with a sustainable development program. We discussed several other areas over the next few minutes. Energy, not just power used to turn on the corporate, factory, distribution centers and store lights, but also the power that was used to power the products sold to customers. Water, contaminated runoff from buildings and parking lots and the water used by consumers with products purchased. Biodiversity, and how the buildings, office complexes, warehouses, factories and stores affect the ecology of the area. The use of chemicals in business operations and in the manufacturing of products sold. Labor, meaning workforce diversity and child labor policies in place for your manufactures. And waste, the amount and type of materials generated by employees, factories, warehouses, distribution centers and stores and the materials generated from customers due to packaging.
He said that made sense and there seemed to still be a lot of things to cover.
I started wondering after he left, if an intelligent, college educated, business professional thinks that sustainability is only about climate change, how many other people out there also feel the same way? I mean, I don’t think I can blame them with all the excitement over an Oscar and Nobel prize and it seems that every where you look we are placing a green leaf on something trying to tell others “Hey look at me, I’m green.”
It did make me more aware of the words I’ll use in the future when I speak about sustainability and showed me that we still have opportunity to spread the word!
So the next time someone ask you what you do or what is sustainability, don’t stop with a definition of “environmental sustainability” tell them the whole story using examples of social, environmental and financial activities.