Sustainable development came to the fore over 30 years ago. Let’s check in and see if it’s still relevant today.
In 1972, the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, a report that used computer simulations to show where the human race was heading at the time. They predicted a huge collapse, with the planet and economy buckling under the weight of a growing population and untethered economic growth.
Many have criticised the report and its methodology, but it highlighted one very real danger — growth at all costs.
The path we are now on may have changed slightly, with sustainable efforts being made worldwide, but the question remains: is a successful economy compatible with environmental protection?
Let’s take a look at how important sustainability really is to the modern economy.
Long-term success over short-term gain
When we think of sustainability, we usually think of the environment. But the term has its uses in the business world, too. A company with long-term ambitions should be a sustainable one. It must grow at a rate which it can maintain for decades to come.
But let’s go one step further and combine the two definitions. Is it possible that one can influence the other?
Brands with an eye on the future need to take care of their bottom line. But in this era where consumers are more eco-savvy than ever, ignoring the environment will confine you to the realms of history.
In a recent survey, 35% of consumers said they’d spend more on a product that is better for the environment. Among millennials, that rises to almost 75%. While those may sound staggering, it’s likely that both figures will grow as we become more aware of our impact on the planet.
The value of sustainable products and services
Last year in the UK, the value of ethical spending hit a massive £81.3 billion. Consumers are increasingly choosing ethical products, from cleaning supplies to energy providers. Catering for ethical consumers is no longer an ideological decision — it’s a financial one.
We’ve seen restaurants adding vegan and vegetarian options wholesale in the past few years. We’ve observed companies worldwide committing to reducing their plastic usage. Most importantly, we’ve seen a shift in the way of doing business.
Is sustainable development compatible with economic growth?
In the past, the environmental choice has been portrayed as the lesser one: reduce your consumption, spend more on ethical goods and make sacrifices on the things you love.
Now, the market has caught up. Change is coming from the top and it’s benefiting consumers everywhere. Of course, reducing each of our carbon footprints is worthwhile, but for too long it’s been the preserve of the rich.
Dr Karen Higgins suggests that it’s unrealistic to ask people to give up on the old consumerist model. It’s been hardwired into us for too long to go back now. Instead, we should place our trust in technology to make our purchases more sustainable.
We’re still going to need cars, so let’s make those cars electric. We still need to eat, so let’s find out how to reduce emissions from field to plate.
That will require action from a few brave companies to get the ball rolling. It’s not long ago that we were releasing harmful CFCs into the atmosphere, creating a hole in the ozone layer with our fridges and aerosols. Thankfully, the market adapted and within a few years they were all but gone from our shelves.
Look down Forbes’ most sustainable companies of 2017, and you’ll see some of the world’s biggest brands. These are to be taken with a pinch of salt, of course, but it shows positive change is happening at the top. The tide is changing.
How can my company be more sustainable?
We’ve created a tonne of resources on how companies can be more sustainable, and we’re just getting started.
Whether you’re a startup or global corporation, you can and should make sustainable decisions today. It’s not easy, but it’ll be worth it — for your profits, for the planet and for people.