Sustainability is confusing

Sustainability is such a far-reaching idea that means something different from person to person and company to company. The original intention often becomes lost in a lot of business practices.

A lot of companies use ‘sustainability’ as a buzzword rather than creating actual sustainable practices. Others use it to justify actions that aren’t all that great (this is called greenwashing!). It can be difficult to spot the differences.

However, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as most make it. In this article, we want to break down what sustainability means to us to give you a holistic look at our commitment to sustainable practices. We will also explain how we plan to avoid greenwashing in our company.

What is sustainability?

The way we see it, sustainability is a category of the ‘good.’ It is a debate about how to live an ethical life, rather than a specific set of boxes that must be ticked. It asks how we can ethically improve someone’s material condition in the present, while also setting them up for success in the future.

Something is sustainable if it can meet someone’s current needs without taking away the ability for people in the future to also meet their needs. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. More often than not, it requires a project or process to be regenerative or renewable. A regenerative or renewable project will replace resources that it uses, creating more ‘good’ than it creates ‘bad.’

When considering a development project, it can be overwhelming to constantly be weighing the positive and negative effects of the work being done in a community or to the environment. Instead of looking at everything as a whole, we break it up into three distinct categories commonly examined in development practice. These categories seek to understand how the project will impact the economy, the environment and the socio-cultural aspects of a community or space. We call these the three pillars of sustainability.

In order for a project or practice to be perfectly sustainable, it must take all three of these into account. No one pillar is more important than another. In all three categories, sustainability encourages a focus on long-term success rather than short-term returns.

Our philosophy

We are fully committed to sustainable practices in our business and development prospects. We also understand that it is not always possible or feasible to be perfectly sustainable all the time. Of course, we want to make sure that our projects and initiatives protect people, the earth and the economy. But, above all, we want to make sure we are doing something that will improve someone’s material condition in the present.

In reality, the world is set up in such a way that a lot of horrible things often happen to good people. Rather than trying to come up with solutions that are perfectly sustainable, long-lasting and sound at every turn, our main goal is to alleviate problems and suffering in the present with sustainability in mind. We will always try our best to create sustainable solutions, but we understand that things will not always be perfect. Because of this, we will ask for constructive feedback, always looking to grow and learn.

What this means in practice is that we will set specific sustainability goals for our projects that we will promise to meet. These goals will change based on what will have the biggest positive impact in all three pillars of sustainability for each specific project. For some projects, it will mean reducing carbon emissions. For others it will be a commitment to being plastic-free. Overall, we want to make sure out impact as is positive as possible, so we will try to set as many sustainability goals for the long-term as we can for everything that we do.

How combat greenwashing

Greenwashing is an idea we explore fully in another article. What it boils down to is a company misrepresenting or intentionally lying about their business practices to try and seem like they are environmentally sound when, in reality, they aren’t. Basically, this is when a company says they are being sustainable without actually doing anything sustainable.

Our best way to combat this tendency internally is to create sustainability reports for each project that we start. Rather than making a blanket statement claiming an individual project is ‘sustainable,’ we rather want to be upfront about the specific aspects that are sustainable. In order to do so, we will define what we mean by ‘sustainability’ each time we use it, rather than creating one definition that we must always stand by.

This serves two important purposes: it allows us to understand that sustainability will have different implications for every project, and it will hold us accountable to the goals that we set out at the start of a project.

In conclusion…

While sustainability can be confusing, we want to make our intentions clear and commit ourselves to always putting our best foot forward in everything that we do. There is no one, single sustainable solution. Sustainability is about taking a look at all of the steps and all of the processes and figuring out how to do them in a way that is better suited for the health of the environment, the people, and the economy.