COULD WE BE MORE CLEAR?

I had a really interesting talk about sustainability this weekend. A friend of mine is a entrepreneur working as an optician. He has a few employees working under him and the business seems to be going pretty smoothly. So I decided to confront him about sustainability. The conversation happened somewhat like this:

Me: “Soooo…. Tell me about the sustainability plan of your company”

He: “Well I haven’t given it too much thought. It’s more of a responsibility of your generation” (Him being 10 years older than me..)

Me: “What do you mean by ´your generation´?”

He: “My generation was raised in the shadow of balance sheet. We only care about financial success.”

Me: “That’s exactly the problem! Why are you like that though?”

He: “I’ve taken one sustainability class in business school and it was ridiculous! All that environmental hippie-stuff really put me off.”

In our following conversation, it occurred to me that he actually knows a lot about sustainability issues. He could just as easily make it visible in his company if he would just want to. But the problem is, that he felt that sustainability agenda is something that’s not meant for normal people, only for environmental activists and companies that have sustainability as a competitive strategy.

This really got me thinking of the importance of education and communication about sustainability. Sustainability needs to be educated and communicated in a way that it sounds possible to make changes towards it. We need to take sustainability down from it’s throne and make it an everyday component of business activities. Like it was said in the class, businesses have the potential to make changes fast. That’s why there needs to be inside-out change for sustainability. Nevertheless, if sustainability becomes associated too much with environmental organizations or scientific apocalypse theories, it reduces it’s relevance to business operations and people cannot connect it to their everyday lives. We need to start focusing more on the baby steps, on the little things that make all the difference.

It’s not only about inside-out or outside-in change for sustainability, it’s both and even more. University education, media, NGO’s and companies are all interlinked in the sustainability consumption discussion.  We need to start talking a language that everyone can understand and relate to!

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3 comments
  1. annasofiah said:

    I feel you Lotta! I think I already commented something related to this matter in my earlier comment of some post, but as I think this is a really important issue, I have to comment on it again. In a way it is more crucial to get the big audience to understand the significance of sustainability than for some selected people to study these subjects more. Some parts of the responsible business have been taken into consideration, but it is mainly more “superficial”, outside-in stuff like CSR reporting or changing something just because an NGO forces the company to do so. If the companies only report and don’t really modify their business models to a more sustainable direction, no change is actually happening.

    How to make sustainability more big audience friendly and widely trendy? Maybe we need more training like Linus was asking for to be able to convince people about the importance and usefulness of sustainability.

  2. tpanthi said:

    Very good post Lotta!

    I like you emphasis on education and the baby steps that can be taken for sustainability. This reminds me of an incident that happened to me during fall of 2006. I was a “fresh of the boat” student in my college in the US when I first moved there. I was totally unaware of the culture, social protocols and norms. During that first week I was in a group with a bunch of American students doing hiking in a nearby woods. We were provided with food packs and water bottles for our journey. In the school itself and in other public places I was very aware of the waste management “system” and would always do the right thing putting right waste in right bin. I had been a good guy following the “system” and was very proud of myself about making the smooth transition away from my Nepalese “unsystematic” waste management behavior. When we entered the woods, couple of hours in our journey, I finished my water and casually threw the bottle in the woods. My team leader, a second year American student, who was walking behind me silently went past the bushes and collected the water bottle and kept it in her back pack. When I saw her doing that she did not say anything but just smiled at my mistake. It took me no time to realize in that silence that my years long habit of being “unsystematic” waste manager had overtaken my conscious. That realization, although very trivial, was a great lesson for me and I have always tried my best to correct my wastefulness due to this incident.

    This trivial behavior change is of immense importance for sustainability specially in the case of unsystematic countries or the so called developing countries where more and more people are adopting the western lifestyle of consumerism. Just like I was in 2006, most people, educated or uneducated, in these countries grow up without knowing how to sort the waste. The need for having waste bins for different types of wastes or merely having one waste bin at a home is not emphasized in the culture. We are used to throwing things on the street. Waste management is done only in big cities which is mostly semi-systematic. As more and more of these countries are leaping forward in the path of consumerism one good example of small baby steps can be teaching efficient methods of waste sorting to children at school and at home in these countries. Teaching such behavior makes the children assimilate the importance of being sustainable from the very beginning. Such baby steps can be trend setters and in long run help create a culture of sustainability. While looking up for solutions at industry level decision making process we should also keep an eye on such trivial things which can make significant difference from various channels.

  3. angelinakt said:

    These kinds of insights from small businesses are very interesting (assuming your friend has a small business). What would make sustainability “normal” and not so much of a hippie thing? Businesses help to shape our understandings of normality, but businesses are run by real people. So yes, in the first place they should start to believe that sustainability is the new normal. No easy answers here, but what I personally really count on is that “this generation” has quite a few visionaries who can help the others get engaged and acting. Actually, I think we have a few visionaries in this class too! 🙂

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