When I started working on this blog, I was going to write something completely different. However, a discussion I had while recording an upcoming episode of WRAP’s podcast made me reconsider my initial topic.
Since The WRAPCast started, I have always made a point of ending every episode with a question:
How do you define sustainability?
The answer to this has gone in several different directions depending on the guest. Some are interpersonal, tying in their life experiences and shaped their viewpoint and approach to sustainability. These answers often trended towards less grandiose approaches to the topic. Others like to take a more global perspective by examining the macro issues and proposing more widespread solutions. To put it simply, these folks are ready to save the world. Both approaches have a great deal of merit.
However, during this recording – I came to a very sobering realization.
I have never asked myself this question.
So. How do I define sustainability? That is going to take a lot of time to unpack.
Do I engage in sustainable activity in my everyday life? I want to think so. While I dream of owning that gas-guzzling Toyota 4Runner, I am more than satisfied driving around in my little Honda subcompact that can get up to 40 miles per gallon while driving on the beltway. I try to make purchasing decisions (especially when it comes to apparel and other sewn products) in a manner that considers a particular brand’s social and environmental impact. I am not perfect; I think I have bought way too many pairs of sweatpants during the pandemic, but I think I am doing my part.
However, engaging in sustainable activity does not lend itself to defining sustainability, and I do think that is important considering the changing landscape.
In just this past month, several brands and retailers have ratcheted up their sustainability commitments. Adidas recently committed to making 90 percent of its products through sustainable production methods by 2025. Nike’s commitment to the practice is personified by its plan to tie executive pay to the company reaching multiple sustainability benchmarks over the next five years.
Now the trouble with sustainability as a word is that it can easily become another industry buzzword that consultants throw around to bring levity to a report they are issuing. Without a personal meaning, there is a risk that the term sustainability becoming trite and without meaning.
So, I went back to my conversation with my last guest. My mind became stuck on one part of our discussion. My guest opined about how we enter this world with nothing and, to be direct, we leave it with nothing. So, what matters is what we leave behind when we do move on. That struck me. The human lifespan is finite, but we can impact the world while we are here significantly. So with that in mind, I think I might be closer to that answer. I came into this world in the winter of 1983, and hopefully, I do not depart anytime soon. With that in mind, the answer that is trending in my head is:
No matter how big or small, actions or behaviors can contribute towards improving the health of our planet and the people living on it while I am still on it.
It is still a work in progress, and it might change by tomorrow, but we are getting somewhere.
In this space, we are working towards bettering the working conditions for those who produce the products we consume on an almost daily basis. Furthermore, in the day-to-day grind of accomplishing our mutual goals, it could be a little easy to ignore the grand question of “why?” Nevertheless, take a moment to do so. Even if you do not come up with an answer right away, the journey to that answer will reinforce why sustainability is so important as a concept.