Beyond Green

hands holding soil

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez, via Unsplash.

I got a few offline messages about my last post. They basically said, “So what’s this sustainability thing, anyway? Is this about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or using better lightbulbs?” The short answer is yes. The long answer is “Yes, and….”

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Overall, there are 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  These sustainability goals include:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and wellbeing
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  • Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Life on land
  • Peace, justice, and strong institutions
  • Partnerships for the goals

Starting Locally

The easiest first step is to think about local sustainability efforts. In any office, it’s easy to imagine the effects from solar energy, recycling initiatives, or energy-efficient LED lighting. But what about less visible initiatives? Some companies have a mandate to use more seasonal or local food in the cafeteria to reduce emissions from ingredient transportation, or even to reduce food waste overall.

To expand the reach of these initiatives, companies can offer subsidies for employees’ sustainability efforts. Many of us already do some version of recycling or energy-efficient lighting in our homes. Work-from-home policies improve the quality of life for employees, but also limit fossil fuel consumption and emissions. Companies can also help employees take the next step, partnering to subsidize the purchase of hybrid or electric vehicles, or home solar installations. (Goals 2, 3, 7, 11, 12, 13)

Sustainable Resources

Companies can stop building products from wood harvested from slow-growth forests. They can switch to organic cotton, or use recycled fibers. They can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Many companies are eliminating palm oil from their products, as it’s a leading driver of deforestation and the corresponding loss of biodiversity. (Goals 12, 13, 15)

The Circular Economy

We traditionally take natural resources, make products, and dispose of them. But companies are increasingly moving towards a circular economy. This model builds long-lasting products, uses recycled materials wherever possible, and recycles product components at the end of the life cycle. And a wide variety of materials can be recycled, including textiles.

The circular model reduces consumption of raw materials, protecting natural resources. But the company also benefits from a steady supply of materials. This minimizes the risks of price volatility and resource availability, helping companies build long-term business resilience. (Goals 8, 9, 12, 13, 15)

It’s About People

Sustainability is also about supporting both classic classrooms and vocational education. I read about a program in Pakistan that taught cotton farmers how to reduce the use of both pesticides and water. This improved the environment while raising the profitability and success of women-owned farms. The educational programs contributed to a reduction in inequality while simultaneously raising families out of poverty. (Goals 5, 10, 12, 15)

There are many approaches to sustainability, and all can be compatible with long-term business growth. How can your business meet the goals?

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