What is sustainability? In the literal sense, sustainability is the ability to maintain or support a process continuously over time. As an administrator at the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEC) I’ve spent many years educating neighbors about conservation. Something I’ve found, is that the language can be polarizing. It shouldn’t be. Sustainability shouldn’t be. But it is.
Sustainability is just another way of saying efficiency, a best practice in business. Many paper-goods companies now replant trees so that they can harvest again, and again. These are sound practices that ensure the sustainability of their business. These companies’ market this as an act of conservation, but it’s primarily to secure materials and accurately forecast production. This is conservation. Is it perfect? No. Is it better for 8 billion people? For sure.
We can buy a thirty pack of water bottles for $5 and those plastic bottles will each last for over a hundred years as they slowly leach into the environment as micro-plastics. The upfront cost is super cheap, but the hidden cost is well… hidden. Scientists have discovered plastic particles in everything we consume, from toothpaste, to fruits and veggies. Microplastics are even in our blood! These are petroleum products, circulating through our bodies. But plastic is cheap to make and convenient.
Sustainability teaches that cheap does not always equal best. Have you ever performed a repair and decided on the cheapest part or tool, only to discover it broke more quickly or made the job harder? It’s the same with many production practices. We can use better materials, but we don’t because we are told that consumers (us) won’t pay the extra penny. Many sustainability practices are created as a result of consumer purchasing practices. If their product doesn’t sell, they change it.
It can be tough to move on from convenience, or cheap, or both; but a few small changes can have an enormous impact when multiplied a few hundred thousand times throughout your life. Multiply that by a million or more people and suddenly the change is enormous, even companies will take notice, and soon better business practices are just “normal” business practices.
Sustainability isn’t about right or left. It’s not a tree-hugger mentality. It’s something we know inherently, but in our busy lives, trade for convenience. We can only sacrifice tomorrow for today for so long. Do not lose hope, there’s still time to do better.
I always advocate for small changes that you can maintain over time. Start living more sustainably by buying reusable travel mugs and shopping bags. Ask restaurants not to include disposable silverware or straws. You can purchase cleaners that are refillable or shipped as tablets that you mix with water. At our office we’re going to bamboo paper products, even toilet paper. It’s easy and the quality is wonderful, and feathery soft. =)
Sustainability means better. It's balance. I said sustainability is not a right or left idea, and that's because it's the middle. It encompasses everyone who lives on Earth, and those yet to come. Sustainability is the practice of equilibrium. It means there’s less negative impact, less residual cost. Sustainability means better for you, better for us.
Make one choice to improve your sustainability footprint. You can complain about how the community is over developed, or the water is polluted, or anything you want, but do one thing to be a part of the solution first. If you do it and I do it, that's two already.