Sustainability, Environmentalism, and Being Green
These three ideas are often used interchangeably, but they’re all loaded concepts that can mean different things in different contexts and to different people. “Being green” might mean you use practices or products that are less harmful to people, animals, plants, and other natural systems. “Environmentalism” can bring to mind forests and rivers, or climate and animals, but not always people. “Sustainability” pulls people into the equation with the idea that we must be able to survive and thrive here in perpetuity. This requires us to think about economy and society as aspects of a greater living system. These aspects are nested within and interconnected with the whole and can influence its health or suffer from its deterioration.
Consider this: Your business can’t survive without customers and suppliers. Customer and supplier well-being depends on the health of society. Society’s health, in turn, relies on the health of the whole ecosphere. By being good stewards of the environment, we can restore the health of our societies, and by being good stewards of our communities, we can ensure the well-being of our customers and suppliers – the ones we rely on directly.
So, how do you know if you’re being a good steward of your community or the environment? Will riding a bike and donating to local charities be enough?
Four Ground Rules
The Natural Step, an organization that was founded in Sweden, gives us four sustainability principles that we can use to evaluate our actions with respect to the environment and society. These principles are high-level for a reason – they don’t talk specifically about how to curb climate change, for example, as that’s only a symptom of unsustainable behavior. Instead, they outline the most basic actions necessary to ensure that we can live in balance with our planet.
To become a sustainable society we must…
- eliminate our contribution to the progressive buildup of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust (for example, heavy metals and fossil fuels)
- eliminate our contribution to the progressive buildup of chemicals and compounds produced by society (for example, dioxins, PCBs, and DDT )
- eliminate our contribution to the progressive physical degradation and destruction of nature and natural processes (for example, over-harvesting forests and paving over critical wildlife habitat); and
- eliminate our contribution to conditions that undermine people’s capacity to meet their basic human needs (for example, unsafe working conditions and not enough pay to live on).
Going Beyond the Minimum
While the four sustainability principles outline what we need to stop doing if we want to survive, it’s also important to have a clear sense of what makes us thrive. Whatever that is can be unique to a particular area or business, but working towards that vision and in support of the health of the whole (considering more than our individual interests) can help us build a more sustainable and resilient society.
Please contact Loop Strategies to learn more.