The basics can seem obvious, however, after writing a few articles on possible sustainable progress or the outcomes of unsustainable practices in specific sectors, I wanted to bring it down to the roots of sustainability.
What does sustainability mean?
The definition of sustainability seems to be a complex topic, but to a certain extent it is a simple concept. Let me break it down for you.
Sustainability can be defined as allowing next generations to enjoy the same level of resources (Bruntland, 1987).
It is meant to be a framework for sustained long-term profit growth.
3 Ps of business sustainability: “people, profit and planet”, also called the triple bottom line whereby development should be framed while balancing those aspects. Instead, since the Industrial Revolution, our economy promotes unstable economic development at the expense of people or natural resources. Those pillars are all foundations to a sustained growth in society. Resources shouldn’t be depleted for creating economic growth, social rights and environmental protection shouldn’t be overlooked.
Who is concerned ?
The concept is applied to all sectors from sustainable construction, that allows better resource conservation, to electricity from renewable sources (i.e. wind powers, water turbines or solar panels). It is also closely linked to fashion, transportation, agriculture, etc.
Sustainable development can be simplified by putting in perspective the industries : what would a flour company do without crops? What would an oil company do once oil reserves have been depleted?
I will dive deeper into each of those pillars. Each of the pillars has to progress without negatively impacting the others.
Social sustainability can be defined as specifying and managing both positive and negative impacts of systems, processes, organisations, and activities on people and social life while making a better place for people to live, their working conditions and living conditions (decent roads, non exposure to chemicals, etc.) play a major role.
- An untrained workforce will find itself stuck in challenges, disengaged or looking at other employment opportunities.
- Respecting workers’ rights will ensure safe working conditions, from reasonable working hours to sound work environments and the right to gather for creating bargaining power groups (ie unions).
- Promoting diversity and equal opportunities secure a sustainable workforce in the long run. If you only employ a certain age you will encounter retirement or parental leaves waves.
Getting people out of poverty will add people in the workforce who can sustain themselves (not reliant on charitable donations or state schemes) who then add to the economy. Removing barriers for people’s future, paving the way for social mobility is key to creating a sustainable society without social classes and corruption that all lead to uprising.
Certifications have worked to prove end consumers that the social rights of the workforce all along the supply chain had been respected. They are called Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ certified and are heavily debated (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade_certification#Criticisms). This is especially common for goods as cotton, coffee or chocolate.
Probably the topic I touch on the most. Example of an old concept whereby a hunter was conscious of not depleting the forest of its resources in order to find animals the next year for instance. While the industrial age got us further from nature into factories and using more resources than available, there has been an increasing use of resources without their management. The oil example is a well known one: on top of environmental concerns, the material is running out, pressing for finding alternatives and reducing our consumption. Developing an environmentally sustainable business enables the business to thrive for centuries, not merely years.
There you can understand the foundations of the need to use the 5 R’s to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot our waste to maximise resource conservation.
Sufficient economy to provide with jobs, opportunities and ability to sustain a decent life. The benefits of the local businesses are invested into locals’ life in training, improved infrastructure to earn and keep the unofficial “right to do business” from the local community. A country’s economy that relies only on one sector is prone to instability, the same goes for heavy foreign investments that can be pulled out without warning leaving the region without employment.
I wrote on changing your and your business’s usage of resources before. Smart resource management will allow us and business’s survival in the long run. Many laws and policies have come into play to facilitate and regulate tangible and intangible resource usage. The essence of sustainability is ensuring a balance of people, planet and profit. The role of supply chain in this framework is crucial as they link growers, manufacturers and buyers together. Supply chains impact positively or negatively the transparency in the trade and employ a high number of people and resources.
The cost to the planet or the workers is rarely translated on the end consumer price putting and emphasis on educating end consumers on the power of voting with their money encouraging better corporate practices by investing in products that hold ethical value and support sustainable growth.