What does it really mean to be sustainable?

Many small businesses allude to being sustainable because they've implemented a sustainable practice. But being sustainable means more than implementing 1 or 2 sustainable practices, it means that we rely less on renewable energy, that we protect biodiversity and we help sustain the earth's natural chemical cycles by reducing the production of waste and pollution in order to create a prosperous and sustainable economy.

With this said, sustainability refers to much more than implementing one practice and it is important to know what being sustainable entails before referring to a business as sustainable.

According to the United Nations General Assembly of 1987, sustainability means; "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". 

With this definition we can already imagine that sustainability is way bigger than what many seem to believe. The three scientific principles of sustainability will allow us to further understand if a business is sustainable or not:

  • they should depend on solar energy,
  • protect our natural environment and biodiversity; and,
  • promote chemical cycling (the circulation of chemicals necessary for life from the environment, through organisms, and back to the environment - e.g., oxygen and carbon dioxide).

Being sustainable in business means adopting business strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future

Specifically in my line of business which is manufacturing and retail, sustainability efforts may include:

  • waste elimination, greenhouse gas reduction, finding the most efficient and profitable use of existing resources (such as oil, gas, ores and forests) and creating energy-efficient infrastructures.
  • evaluate ways to minimize waste in packaging, facilitate energy use in stores, transport goods in more eco-friendly ways and recycle old products.

So sustainability is a very broad concept and requires a lot of action toward the benefit of the environment and our society. It is amazing that small business owners like myself implement sustainable practices in order to make our world better, but it takes a lot to call ourselves sustainable. 

I believe in the power and responsibility of individuals and businesses, working in partnership with our government and society in order to effect change. It is said that it takes 5-10% of the population of a community, a country, or the world to bring about major social change and that it can occur in a much shorter time than most people think.

So lets keep implementing more sustainable practices each day, it will make for a greater tomorrow!

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