Sustainability. You couldn’t possibly have missed that word. It gets everywhere these days. And so it should too. It is what the world needs the most. Sustainable thinking, sustainable development, sustainable living – all of it is part of the solution to the most existential problem our generation faces. Climate change is real and it is wreaking havoc on our planet. In fact, given we have only 10 years to do something about it, it is very much climate crisis. But how can we affect change? We are all so used to the convenience in our lives. How can we make a difference?
Businesses have a lot to answer for, right?
Absolutely correct. All businesses need to start looking at sustainable solutions as an investment. It’s a very smart investment too! Businesses – big and small – are responsible for a big chunk of carbon emissions. However, where lies the problem, also lies the solution. By changing to a low carbon mode businesses can lead the way to a low carbon society. There are some real quick wins like changing the energy supplier, more efficient lighting & heating, changing to greener modes of transportation.
However, businesses are run by and for people like you and me. When we start demanding changes as their workers and customers, they have to listen.
Small businesses in particular are adopting sustainable practices in big numbers. Yes, they might not have the economic clout to bring about big change but big behemoths move slowly while the smaller ones are far more nimble.
Small companies mostly work with other small companies. Take Ethiqana, for instance. We work with small producers in order to provide sustainable livelihoods to the artisans. Our close partnerships mean we can incorporate sustainable practices in our products far more easily. Our whole supply chain is built on sustainability.
Is capitalism to blame for the state we are in?
To a great extent yes. But to paint capitalist free markets as the absolute enemy would be a mistake. Businesses need a thriving market. However, businesses need to change they way they have been used to working. The whole idea is in need of a big change. Profitability at any cost is an idea well past its sell by date. Agreed, there are mega corporations which are still working on the same principles but we also see customers turning away from them. Environmental and social change needs to be part of the fabric of the business. This is also where social enterprises are leading the way for the future of business.
In recent times, even the Financial Times is asking for capitalist economies to pause and rethink their policies.
What do we do as consumers?
In a nutshell – everything that we do matters. As consumers we have been addicted to a lifestyle of convenience. That is not necessarily a bad thing. We all lead very busy lives. Between home, work and family there’s hardly any time as it is for a social life for most people. So a little bit of convenience is well deserved.
What we can do without sacrificing convenience is look at alternatives to our usual choices. Shop with more ethical businesses, for example. Social enterprises like ours are trying to make a real positive difference to the lives of the people who seem to have been left behind by the race build more and fast.
We all know how much resources meat farming takes up and how much methane it produces. Would it make sense to switch to a more plant based diet? Of course, it would. It will take a little bit of learning but in the long term, it’s not only good for our bodies but also for the environment.
There is a big push from the government and also the industry towards cleaner vehicles. For the sake our childrens’ health and indeed our own, it would be logical to switch to better driving machines. As an EV driver for the past 5 years, I can tell you, I’m never going back to a conventional ICE (internal combustion engine) car. It’s not only that smugness that I feel while driving that I am not polluting the environment, it’s also the savings I make from not having to fill up at the petrol station every week!
Just like businesses, switching to a green energy provider and changing your lightbulbs to more efficient ones will also save you a pretty penny.
And that brings me to the next point. Affordability is very important in this whole story. All of us want to save money wherever we can. Greener and more sustainable alternatives used to be expensive and lacked finesse. But that was then. These days there are plenty of high quality affordable ones. All we need to do break our habits, just a little bit.
So, going back to the question – whose sustainability is it? I think the answer is, it’s all of us. Be it businesses or individuals, we all need to take part. In fact both are co-dependent on each other to bring about the change we want to see in our society. Consumer behaviour drives change in businesses. Some businesses have always had social and environmental causes close to their hearts. Others are changing their ways now. Pretty sure those who are adamant on maintaining the status quo will either be forced to change or go under.
An immense source of hope is the youth movement led by the likes of Greta Thunberg. There are people who are genuinely worried about the future and are demanding change. Change is definitely on the agenda. With more support from ethically minded consumers who demand sustainable solutions, social businesses can hope to make more positive impact. Hopefully, one day we can bring the whole of the business world to look at the world from our perspective.