The Sustainability Buzz

Beyond a Buzzword: The Future of Sustainability

Green Office BuildingAt a meeting last week, one of the other meeting attendees stated that he didn’t believe that the concept of sustainability was going to have staying power in the business world.  He just didn’t see it as something that resonates with company executives and drives them towards change.

Initially, we were surprised that someone could be so out of touch with what has clearly become a driving force for many of the world’s leading companies, as well as the subject of countless magazine articles and post-graduate programs.  But then we realized what a lot of us who work in the great echo chamber of the sustainability field too often forget: a huge segment of the population still doesn’t understand sustainability and isn’t on board with it.  And they’re the ones that we need to convince.  Either that, or we need to change the way that the world operates so fundamentally that it becomes impossible for these people to not be on board with sustainability.

Of course, world-changing takes time, and it’s very likely that the shift to a sustainable society won’t happen in our lifetime.  But fundamentally, we believe that sustainability isn’t just a buzzword—it’s here to stay.  Here’s why.

  1. The global population just keeps on growing. And with it, so does our demand for key resources, such as water and energy.  We’ve already reached a tipping point where we see water shortages regularly here in the U.S., and as more and more people join the grid in developing countries, there’s more and more demand for non-renewable fuel sources to power their houses, schools and factories.  We’re all going to have to learn how to do more with less.
  2. Energy prices have been rising steadily and will continue to do so. Energy is a big piece of the sustainability puzzle, and as costs continue to rise, it will force organizations to find innovative ways to mitigate those rising costs.  While the quick, “low-hanging fruit” solutions might be enough to offset today’s cost increases, tomorrow’s strategies will have to be more innovative and dig deeper to continue to offset rising costs.  This drive towards greater energy efficiency will help develop a culture of continuous sustainable improvement.
  3. We don’t really know what’s going to happen with water. We know that there are going to continue to be droughts and shortages, and they’re going to get worse, but we don’t exactly know how countries and businesses are going to respond.  This presents a huge risk on the horizon for manufacturers, as the need for water cuts across all sectors, and it’s not going to go away any time soon.  Companies will need to learn how to become more sustainable with their water use to simply stay in business.
  4. The big guys have already started blazing the sustainable trail. China and India’s governments have been pumping massive amounts of money into research and development of clean technologies, and global companies, such as Walmart and GE, have adopted aggressive sustainability programs to allow them to stay competitive.   When these large companies set such a strong example, smaller companies are much more likely to follow suit and keep the momentum going.

Of course, there will always be the naysayers that think that sustainability is just the flavor of the month, but to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter.  Once the world changes around them, they’ll be forced to change, too.  And for companies, that could mean the difference between thriving in the new sustainable reality or being out of business ten years down the road.

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