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Sustainability - What it is and why we like it

That Word.  Sustainability.  What does it actually mean?  Is it still relevant?  

We get asked all the time - Is this item REALLY sustainable?  Is your business sustainable?  Do you REALLY know?  

So here's a blog post about it all.   
(I'm also setting myself a challenge to condense 30 years of sustainability training into one easy to read blog post - let me know how I go!)

Can anything really be completely, perfectly, sustainable? 


Do we really know? 

No, we don't.  

But hey, we're giving it a damn good crack!

That's our basic philosophy:  no-one is perfect, but is that a reason not to try?  We don't think so.....

OK.  So way back when, we used to talk about THE BOTTOM LINE.  And that just meant we were worried about how much money a business was making at the end of the day.  Without a thought as to how this was impacting on the environment and all the things that formed part of that environment (like people).  Crazy, right?  Lots of indigenous cultures have always had broader thinking than this, but somewhere along the line, 'industrialised' nations forgot....

In 1987, Gro Harlem Brundtland (who was the first female Prime Minister of Norway, an awesome fact in itself), was asked to formulate "a global agenda for change", which was an urgent call by the General Assembly of the United Nations.  She chaired a report, titled, "Our Common Future", which contained a paragraph that provided, for the first time, a definition of sustainable development:

"Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".   300 awesome pages of crucial framing followed, but this one phrase is what captured the world's attention.

It also captured my attention, because I started studying in Environmental Sciences the year after, so every lecture and case study I was given in my formative study years was based on this definition and report.  Seriously exciting stuff.  

How you meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs led to the concept of sustainability, which is really about what we would need to consider if we were to achieve such a thing. 

And those things were boiled down to three - Environment, Social Equity, and Economy.  Or as some put it - People, Planet, and Profit.  How these are balanced to achieve a sustainable outcome is commonly shown as the three overlapping circles diagram, or the concentric circles, or the 3 legged stool, your choice.  (The concentric circle is our favourite, as the environment is all-enveloping - which we think makes good sense).  The stool is good too - because you can literally imagine that little stool falling over if you remove one of the legs.  





I can hear you thinking, well, that's pretty simple! 


Yes, it is, but as they say, it's all in the delivery.  How can you achieve perfection in all three aspects, and end up with the perfect product?  

Ah, there it is you see, you can't. 

You compromise.  (But be careful, because some politicians may read this as negotiate, or worse, manipulate)

So can you really have the perfect pair of pants?  Perfect fit, perfect colour, perfect style, perfect price, no environmental damage, no detriment to any person or community in the supply chain, and everyone making lots of money in the process?  Unlikely, right?

That's the secret sauce of sustainability - it very unlikely we will achieve true, perfect sustainability, but we strive for it, and want to get an A+ if we can!  

That is why we have selected different sustainability values (like ethically made, organic, vegan, or eco friendly) and show you what each product achieves in terms of these.  Because the more you know, the more informed you can be about your purchasing, and your impacts, and your sustainability.

If we all strive for an A+ then maybe we can all move as close as we can to achieving sustainability!

There is so much more to go on with here - we can talk about the climate crisis, circular thinking versus take-make-waste, energy, food, water, waste, social justice, indigenous justice and knowledge...but this is an introduction!

What do you think?  What's your Definition?  Can we ever achieve true sustainability?


Want to Know More?

We love the work of The Natural Step.  They explain things simply!   You will notice that they talk about how we can be MORE sustainable, and move TOWARDS sustainability. 

Dr Bob Willard has had his finger on the pulse of sustainability for years, and has the most amazingly detailed information slides that he provides for free, to anyone.  That's awesome.  (I heard him speak in New Zealand once and was so impressed I invited him to speak in Australia, and ended up organising his tours).

 Here are some people who have written some really interesting things about sustainability, in very digestible formats (no there are no affiliate links to Amazon, go find them in your local library!)

  • The Lorax, by Dr Seuss.  (I'm serious, read it, it literally defines sustainability)
  • Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing, by Doug McKenzie-Mohr & William Smith
  •  Thinking in Systems: A Primer, by Donella Meadows (if you think in Maths, this is for you)
  • The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, by Paul Hawkins
  • Deep  Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, by Bill McKibben
  • Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman.   

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