Redefining Sustainability

Sustainability has been a trending topic for some time now.

With the movement percolating since the 1960’s, the entrance of millennials into the workforce sent the values-driven movement into hyperdrive.

From packaging to fashion, it is now commonplace to see companies touting sustainable values and products. No longer is it considered a fringe movement with a small percentage of the population driving this surge, but across all demographics there is a growing demand for environmentally friendly products.

It is amazing to see companies respond to the value-driven consumer demand. As the world wakes up to the growing climate catastrophe and new leaders take the reins, it is going to be a good thing to have leaders with value sets that go beyond a single bottom line of profitability.

On the other hand, critics rightly complain that many of these companies are doing lip service and using sustainable related rhetoric to sell more product and place premium price tags on products. Greenwashing is nothing new in the marketing world, and it will be something that we’ll likely alway be deciphering for the foreseeable future.

The issue that critics and the general public should have about sustainability is that it highlights the need for action without offering forth a guiding philosophy to follow. It is driven by the premise that we need to be able to meet our needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.

In common language that means we need to do less bad.

Less plastic.

Less externalities.

Zero waste.

Net zero energy.

Net zero carbon.

But will this be good enough to sustain our population and stave off the deleterious effects of climate change?

I make the suggestion that we need to revise the definition of sustainability in order to ensure we have a fighting chance of survival.

Let’s make the goal of sustainability to be a philosophy that ensures that our needs of today are met while restoring and enhancing the world for future generations to come.

Rather than reducing negative externalities, let’s create positive externalities.

As intelligent beings we should be able to grasp that we are part of living systems that are affected by our decisions and lifestyles. Simply put, our actions can either degrade or they can enhance.

This is not a quantum leap of thought. It is a shuffle of words. A call to action to think more deeply and mindfully. It is a plea to begin asking generative questions of what could be rather than reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Maybe, just maybe, we can begin to build a truly sustainable world where we can be in harmony with each other and the planet.

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Neal Collins

Neal Collins

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Co-founder of Latitude — a company that helps transform people’s lives and communities by incorporating sustainability into real estate.