Communicating Sustainability

The other day I took my car for an oil change to a local car care shop here where I live in Arlington, Virginia. I’ve been going to the same car care shop for sometime, like 10+ years. This shop is a family owned. Parents owned the business with the three children working out the shop, a typical mom and pop shop. 

I talked to one of the kids about what I’m doing now which has something to do with sustainability. After I finished my sentence about my new venture, the first question coming out of her mouth was “what is sustainability?” Silence. And I was like.. mumbling and grumbling grasping for words. Didn’t expect that she would ask me that question. She really throws me off guard! And that IS where the communication gap is.. 

In the real world, there are people and businesses out there who don’t understand about what sustainability is all about and how it works. Unfortunately, they make up the big chunk of the population. 

To have business change their business-as-usual to sustainability, we need to sell the idea that this change is good for their companies. And to have long lasting impact, the change has to start from the inside out.

That means, we need to help them understand the what, why, whose doing it, only then we can proceed to show them that this is how you would do it. It will be part education and part inspiration. 

The definition of sustainability from Brundtland Commission that EPA adopted, says:

 “The traditional definition calls for policies and strategies that meet society’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

What if we make that definition simple? 

All business understand profits, because profits matter to them. Let’s tie how the use of less resources will have an impact on their bottom line.

30 second pitch

Sustainability is about using less natural resources. When a business use less water, energy, raw materials, this would help improve their bottom line. For example, Walmart goes sustainability in a big wave because of the economic reason. They understand that being the #1 retailer in the world with more than $400 billion in revenues, they have a huge environmental footprint. For them knowing where the supply comes from, what kind of socio-economic-environmental conditions they have to deal with, and finding ways to reduce the volatility, would make their business sustainable for the long run.

The thing is, there is an imbalance of supply and demand in the world.

Supply: The planet, a closed system. Supply of fresh water is fixed.

Demand: between now and 2050, 9 billion people would be living in this planet, according to UN estimates.

 That means, we will have a resource constraint unless WE do something about it. 

 Just look around. Pay attention to what’s around you. What do you see there?

Daniel Etsy and Andrew Winston in their book ‘Green to Gold‘ (affiliate link) said that “our economy and society depend on natural resources. To oversimplify, every product known to man came from something mixed or grown.” 

That’s just said about every business out there in the world should start thinking about what they want to do to sustain their business.

So, what is your company doing?

Further reading: 

Vision 2050 (pdf) – World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Living Planet Report 2008 – WWF

Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production – United Nations Environmental Program



Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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