written by: Donna Cosmato•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/27/2011
Sustainability is a term used loosely by everyone from business executives to high school students. However, does sustainability really mean in term of the environment?
slide 1 of 6
A growing buzzword in households is sustainability. For those that are new to the eco-friendly lifestyle, this term can be hard to understand. Since sustainability is an important single word that encompasses a large amount of actions, let’s get to the bottom of what is meant by sustainability as well as what that looks like.
slide 2 of 6
What is Meant by Sustainability?
Sustainability at the core refers to the ability to be maintained. However, that word can be applied to a variety of situations. Whether we are talking about corporate business, manufacturing, or simply the production of food, sustainability demands that we be able to meet our needs without degrading the environment for future generations. This implies a commitment to our own success as well as a commitment to long-range planning for the success of humans, animals, and plants that we will likely never meet. We must work as stewards of the environment both in the present and the future, reducing our impact to a degree that the environment can easily handle.
slide 3 of 6
What Does Sustainability Look Like?
Sustainability looks different depending on the setting. It may be a company choosing renewable resources over nonrenewable ones. It may be incorporating as much post-consumer recycled materials as possible. It may be using energy efficient or green-energy technology in the workplace. It may involve creating jobs on the cutting edge of the industry and then providing benefits for those employees to keep them with the company. It may be training for employees on new procedures that reduce the environmental impact and making those procedures standard. It may be building a new building with LEED standards in mind. Whatever it looks like, the goal is the same: create something that will last.
slide 4 of 6
Why Is Sustainability Important?
Some would suggest that sustainability can compound the challenges associated with economic growth in a variety of sectors. This can be true. However, the benefits found through a sustainable model can outweigh the upfront costs. Sustainability works on a model of careful planning and slow growth.
Often, business models focus on growing profits and lowering costs for consumers. Consumers are always after a deal so companies that provide low costs often do more business and are able to grow quickly. Unfortunately, the low costs to consumers on store shelves usually come at another price.
Products that are manufactured cheaply are skimping in other areas. Companies may not be using the quality materials, using energy efficiently, cleaning up pollution to the best of their ability, providing for employees, or manufacturing products overseas by exploiting underpaid workers. These costs affect the environment and also our economy. The company grows rich quickly on a poor business model that restricts job access at home and increases pollution and careless use of nonrenewable resources.
By following a sustainable model, and understanding what is meant by sustainability, the upfront cost can be more but consumers get what they pay for. They are assured the model for growth is based in long-term, not short-term, success.
slide 5 of 6
"Basic Information | Sustainability | US EPA." US Environmental Protection Agency. 9 Apr. 2009. Web. 26 July 2010. <http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/basicinfo.htm>.
"What Is Sustainability? - Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College." Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College - Grand Rapids, Michigan. Steelcase Foundation. Web. 26 July 2010. <http://www.centerforsustainability.org/resources.php?root=96&category=96>.
"Why Is Sustainability Important? | UC Berkeley - Business and Administrative Services Portal." Home | UC Berkeley - Business and Administrative Services Portal. UC Berkeley. Web. 26 July 2010. <http://bas.berkeley.edu/sustainability/why>.