A vote for sustainability
In 2021, there was a collective sense of doom. From health risks due to the pandemic, to employment during a challenged economy, to wildfires, drought, floods and more, it seemed like we experienced a new set of environmental and personal challenges daily. An endless series of hardships often derailed plans and impacted our ability to care for ourselves, let alone our family and friends. It’s hard to maintain a good balance when life is turned upside down with increasing frequency. Personally, I crave a different year.
All I want in 2022 is a more sustainable and livable year. But what is sustainability and is it possible to build more of it? At their core, sustainability practices embrace tactics that allow us to live, and the economy to grow, in harmony with the environment. Environmentalists have been refining the core principles that support sustainability for a few decades. Most are likely familiar with sustainability’s time-honored tenants including the 3 Rs:
- Reduce (resource use)
- Reuse (materials and goods)
- Recycle (everything possible)
By reducing and making smarter use of resources, these practices help to minimize the cost of, energy needed for, and the pollution created by production. This contributes to a more stable environment and is seen as a key tool to counter the negative effects of climate change. While some may debate the extent and nature of our impact on the environment and the existence of climate change, and deprioritize the need for sustainability programs, I have personally seen damages to, and the collapse of the environment at my local level that may be pegged to climate change. This has me gravely concerned (see my recent article Who cries when ecosystems die?).
Is sustainability the answer to our problems? The concepts are powerful and are increasingly expanding from an environmental movement into consumer preference as well as business and economic policy.
Today consumers’ have shifted to supporting firms and products that focus more on sustainability. Seventy-five percent of Millennials say sustainability is very/somewhat important when buying consumer packaged goods. And 4 in 10 shoppers are more concerned about sustainability now than they were pre-COVID-19.
Consumers are increasing voting with their wallets and firms are responding by developing sustainability programs for internal operations as well as supporting external groups driving sustainability. For some examples, see the sustainability programs industry leaders like Crocs, Schott, HSBC, and L’Oreal have put in place.
Progressive companies today make it very easy to find and learn about their sustainability programs. Consumers are checking websites for these details and making purchase decisions based on the strength of the brand’s sustainability story.
Like most growing firms, the company I work for contributes to many environmental and community sustainability programs. For example, in support of COP26, Sitecore (my employer) has committed to planting 10,000 trees as well as supporting three carbon reduction projects through Cool Effect to offset our corporate travel emissions.
At Sitecore we also promote business practices that help corporations to predictably achieve more business goals through implementing sustainable internal business operations (especially related to content marketing and operations).
These are a few examples of how businesses are approaching sustainability, but the dimensions and potential of these programs are being rapidly expanded.
On a personal level, I am a lifelong participant in activities that support sustainability including recycling, growing my own food, composting and using energy efficiently (see my recent garden efforts here). As deep a history as I have with some aspects of the practice, I am touched by some recent examples in my business and community.
Last week, I needed an asphalt shingle to repair my leaky roof. It turns out they are only sold in packs of 40 at the hardware stores (and online), but I only needed one. It would have been incredibly wasteful to purchase the whole pack just to use one. But at there were some loose shingles from a scrap pile at my local hardware store, and they were able to provide me one without having to purchase the entire package (thank you Friedmans!).
Alongside the low-tech solution of just talking to my neighbors, I’ve found services such as Nextdoor and Craigslist to be great for sharing and reusing items. The volume of unneeded tools, left over materials, food, clothing, and furniture I see being shared lately is impressive.
My favorite sustainability effort last year was a Patagonia repair program. I was delighted in September when I received an email from the clothing manufacturer asking if I had any damaged products. By making product repairs easier, they are keeping goods out of landfills and reducing the resources needed to produce new products. Yes, they may lose a new sale in the short run, but they gain lifelong customers from the program.
As it turns out, I did have a 40-year-old Patagonia jacket in my closet that I had recently stopped wearing due to condition issues that seemed beyond affordable/easy repair. Still, I kept it in the back of my closet as it was special to me (see Epilog — My coat of sustainability). Through the Patagonia program the repairs were quick, easy and affordable — keeping the jacket out of a landfill and perhaps on my back for another 40 years!
My hope for everyone in 2022 is a more stable year, and perhaps if we all invest a bit more in sustainability today, future years may be more livable as well.
Epilog — My coat of sustainability
May 18, 1986
I thought I would die right after I took this shot. This was taken on a solo trip hitch-hiking around Europe for a few months. At this point in the journey, I was pretty broke, tired, hungry and cold. Honestly, I thought it would be nice when people found my body to have one last picture of me because that is what I thought was going down at that point. For a couple days right before this I was backpacking around these snowy highland tarns, totally lost (Lake District, England). The fog came in and was so thick I couldn’t see 3 feet in front of me. I had worked myself into a place where as far as I could tell, cliffs were all around me. I was alone. Then I started to see blood and bones sticking out of the snow in places. I was freaked. Whether some wolves or a bear, I assumed whatever had gotten what was strewn around me was going to get me too, so I decided to try and climb down a cliff as they seemed to be all around, and I could find no trail.
At the edge, I could not see more than a few feet down. I had no idea that once I started in it would get steep and drop me hundreds of feet. I took this shot to say goodbye and then set off. I slipped down the granite talus for a while. Cut and scraped up, around 100 ft. below I found a ledge that eventually led to a trail. Hiking a while, the trail descended about 1000 ft below the tarns and the fog opened to a beautiful U-shaped glacial valley. The trail I was on was at the head of the valley and seemed to run down both sides. I took the path to the right. After a while, I noticed a lone figure who appeared to be carrying a guitar case far across the valley on the trail stuck to the other side. It was the first person I had seen in days, and although looking somewhat mysterious and dark through the fog and distance, I was happy to see another human and to have survived.
An hour or so down the trail, I came upon the Warden for that forest and told him my story of being lost, and how happy I was at being back on a trail. We spoke for a while, and he told me how common it was in that area. He also told me the bones and blood were from sheep, most likely. In passing as I left him, I noted how cool it was to see someone was up here with a guitar. He paused for a moment and noted who that would be — Jimmy Page he said (from the band Led Zeppelin). Apparently, he had a manor near there and often sought the highlands as a place to relax and play.
All I could think of at that point was if I had gone left instead of right, I may have had my own private concert in those rugged beautiful hills. At least and perhaps better still, I have this picture, the jacket I was wearing in it and this tale to tell.
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