What is Sustainability?
I’ll start off by saying that I used to think sustainability meant anything “green” or “eco-friendly,” so basically anything that is recyclable or made with renewable materials. While sustainability encompasses those things, as I read more about it I learned that sustainability is so much more than that!
When people, designers, companies, etc. label their products as “green” they usually are referring to the product being resourced and manufactured in a way that uses renewable materials, and minimizes or eliminates negative impacts on the Earth, typically from waste products that cause pollution, or add to our landfills.
These are all good things. These are things that we want!
Here’s the thing, sustainability isn’t just about products. It’s about how the product gets to you. It’s about all the people involved in making and transporting the product. How much gas does it take for a freight ship to carry thousands of t-shirts from china vs. one that is made in America and shipped across state lines? Are the seamstresses and seamsters of your favorite brand overworked and underpaid? Chances are, the more affordable a garment is, the more people and resources are being exploited for the sake of profit.
If a company is underpaying its workers, it doesn’t just hurt the worker and their family, it hurts the economy, and it hurts you and me. This employee and the family they support has extremely limited spending power. They can’t contribute to the local or global economy. They are no longer buying services because they can’t afford them leading to a decrease in patronage to local businesses. They may not be paying hospital bills because they’re too expensive. Not to mention the stress and mental health issues that come with living in poverty. Chronic stress and mental disorders contribute to more frequent physical health problems, which increases the burden on the healthcare system, which likely then increases the burden on taxpayers who are supporting the underprivileged.
The difficult thing about our sustainability problem is that it encompasses every person, resource, and service involved in our modern, complex, global commerce network. In other words… we got a lot of sh*t to shovel.
However, change must start somewhere… grassroots and all that. Gandhi never actually said “be the change you wish to see in the world” (yeah, Google it) but I still wholly believe in its meaning.
Stay tuned for how to get started on being that change.