What is Sustainability?

Updated: May 29, 2020

According to the United Nations Brundtland Report, sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” [1]. The report outlined three fundamental components to sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth and social equity, recognising that the three were intrinsically linked.

Put simply, sustainability is about maintaining life on earth and the ecosystems required to support it.

But when it comes to sustainable businesses, it gets a little harder to define. Everything a business does has an impact on our planet and on people affected by the business (often referred to as stakeholders), from raw materials and production to shipping and sales. Therefore, a 'sustainable' business should aim for all of their products to have as little negative impact and as much positive impact as possible on people and the planet. In practice, this means continuous work to improve all stages of a product’s life cycle, from its design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its components.

From an environmental perspective, the aim should be to minimize any undesirable environmental impacts of the product’s life cycle by:

  • ensuring efficient and careful use of natural resources (water, energy, land, soil, animals, plants, biodiversity, ecosystems, etc)

  • aiming to select renewable energy sources at every stage

  • maximizing repair, remake, reuse, and recycling of the product and its components.

From a socio-economic perspective, all stakeholders should work to improve present working conditions and wellbeing for workers on the field, in the factories, transportation chain, and stores, by aligning with good ethics, best practice and international codes of conduct. In addition, companies should contribute to encourage more sustainable consumption patterns, caring and washing practices. [2]

We like to think of sustainability as a spectrum, sustainability is not about being perfect but about making progress towards meaningful change. Businesses, especially small businesses, are an integral part of creating a better future and by taking small steps towards change can make a significant positive impact now and for future generations.

[1] United Nations. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. 1987

[2] Dr Bismar. WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION? Green Strategy

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