What is Sustainability
Companies have begun to embrace sustainability, and while many companies market their products and services as “sustainable,” they rarely take the time to define it. This ambiguity can make it difficult for the public to understand why so many companies have adopted sustainability as a business model.
Any definition of sustainability starts with the question of what are we sustaining? The environment? Natural resources? Human health? Economic growth? For us at Green Science Solutions the answer is all the above. Sustainability falls into three main categories: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and social sustainability.
When most people think of sustainability, environmental sustainability is what comes to mind. Environmental sustainability focuses on protecting and maintaining our environment through conscious business practices. Businesses achieve these sustainability goals by embracing the 5 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, renew, and redesign.
- Reducing focuses on reducing the use of wasteful and single use materials in packaging and manufacturing. For example, a company reducing package size to avoid unnecessary waste.
- Reusing focuses on choosing materials that can be reused over-and-over. For example, a grocery store provides customers with reusable canvas tote bags instead of single use plastic bags that end up in the oceans.
- Recycling focuses on repurposing waste materials to be used again instead of disposing them in a landfill. For example, a company who sources recycled plastic in their manufacturing process instead of buying new plastic.
- Renew focuses on how businesses can renew existing damage. For example, a paper company planting trees and contributing to conservation efforts to renew an ecosystem.
- Redesign focuses on how businesses can redesign procedures, processes, and protocols to be more sustainable. For example, a business that redesigns a wasteful manufacturing process to reduce materials, reuse components, and include recycled parts.
Taking these actions reduces the stress on ecosystems and wildlife. While individual action on the environment only goes so far, when businesses adopt environmental sustainability, the outcomes are much more impactful.
Economic sustainability focuses on how businesses promote longevity in their market. There is a lot of overlap between environmental and economic sustainability. Economic sustainability centers on investing in the future—and the future is green. It can look like powering your facility with renewable energy, reducing your company’s carbon footprint, or creating a work from home program to reduce or eliminate your employees’ commute.
As the economy shifts towards green technologies and regulators target businesses that don’t adapt, it’s important for companies to stay ahead of the curve. As we face new hurdles with water shortages, extreme weather, and rising temperatures, a company’s preparedness and sustainability practices may be the difference between success and failure in shifting markets.
Social sustainability is one of the lesser-known forms of sustainability and can be hard to define, but it is one of the most important. Social sustainability focuses on how a business sustains its stakeholders including its employees, customers, and community members. No company is an island. Companies exist in communities and their support of those communities supports the longevity and health of the business.
For example, suppose a company moves away from using chemical cleaners in their facilities and adopts a chemical free alternative. On first glance, this may appear to be environmental sustainability (reducing the chemical in the water supply) or even economic sustainability (reducing their annual maintenance bill), but there are other long-term impacts that fall under social sustainability. Reducing chemicals in their cleaning process will protect their employees from long-term exposure resulting in fewer chronic diseases like cancer or reproductive issues. Outside of the company, fewer chemicals improve the quality of the local water supply which in turn improves the health and safety of the community. As a result, fewer health issues put less stress on the healthcare system.
Social sustainability is the recognition that the actions of our businesses have an impact on the society at large, and we as businesses can either take actions to sustain the community or actively harm it through unsustainable practices—intentional or otherwise.
We at Green Science Solutions want to make clear that we care about the future of the environment and the health of our community. We strive to be the driving force behind the adoption of sustainable technologies in business, and we hope that this article has clarified the importance of sustainability and why so many companies have made the transition.