What Is Sustainability, and Why Does It Matter?

community pick up

Environmental concerns seem to be at the top of everyone’s minds these days. It’s become such a ubiquitous concern that even big businesses are joining the environmentalism movement through green marketing and other sustainability efforts.

Because of this push toward a greener world, we’re often inundated with terminology that we don’t necessarily understand. We hear the terms “sustainable,” “green,” and “environmental” all the time, but what do they truly mean?

When we don’t fully understand the terminology surrounding environmentalism and climate change, it’s too easy to fall for greenwashing—when an entity makes false claims that their products and practices are environmentally sound—or to make choices that we incorrectly believe to be green. It’s important, therefore, to not just regurgitate these terms but to fully understand their meaning and intention.

Which brings us to sustainability. Perhaps the most-used term surrounding climate change, sustainability is a term spoken by politicians, businesses, and NGOs as they project their sustainability goals and make promises to become more sustainable in the future. While these promises are good, we must fully understand what sustainability means in order to hold these entities and ourselves accountable to these promises.

Here’s a quick guide to sustainability, what it means, and why it’s important.

sustainability

In short, sustainability is a policy concept that seeks to reduce humans’ impact on the world while ensuring prosperity for future generations. Ideally, sustainable practices will allow us to continue to create new technology and innovation, grow economies, and see better and better quality of life for each generation while preserving resources and life on our planet.

But, the basic definition of sustainability is the easy part. The difficult part is establishing the best methods to achieve sustainability. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. One key aspect of sustainability is that it seeks to simultaneously improve the environment, the economy, and equity; in other words, nature, money, and people must all be considered. Because we live in a diverse world with many different cultures and economies, the sustainable development approaches that work for one country likely won’t work for another.

This is also why there are few international regulations when it comes to sustainability. While environmental experts seek to establish sustainability best practices, many governments reject those practices for a plethora of reasons, including initial cost of transition to a more sustainable government and lack of cultural acceptance. Because of this, the global move toward sustainability is a slow one, and while many countries, like the EU Member States, have strong sustainability development practices, other countries, like Vietnam and Cambodia, are only just beginning their sustainability journeys.

Why is sustainability important?

sustainability

The very definition of the term should tell us a bit why sustainability is important: it saves resources and plant and animal life while allowing humankind to progress. But, sustainability goes far beyond strategies for an existence that’s able to be sustained.

While other environmental ideas seek to limit humans’ impact on the planet, sustainability seeks to reduce impact while also addressing social and economic issues. Sustainability goals don’t just save the environment; they create a better life for all. This isn’t just a dream; case studies and projections show us that pursuing sustainable development will create jobs, preserve resources, and save money, especially in countries that have few natural resources of their own.

Two cities, Glasgow and Amsterdam, predicted a significant number of new jobs for mid- to low-skilled workers—2,000 jobs in Glasgow and 700 jobs in Amsterdam—if circular economy plans were to be implemented. According to the same report, they predicted the potential creation of €85 million in the construction sector alone in Amsterdam. 

Besides the benefits for governments and municipalities, businesses benefit from more sustainable practices as well. For example, investing in energy-efficient lightbulbs may have more of an initial cost, but reduced energy bills amount to massive savings over the years. Furthermore, they don’t burn as hot as other lightbulb types, reducing cooling costs. 

Sustainability measures also protect important assets. Coca-Cola learned this the hard way when, in 2004, they were forced to shut down a number of plants in India due to water pollution, leading to massive losses. When your company depends upon a certain resource, why would you abuse it? Companies must work to preserve the resources that they use so that they can continue to produce their product in the future.

Sustainability isn’t just an important consideration for the environment. It’s essential for individuals, companies, and governments, too. When it comes to environmental needs, we tend to believe that protecting the environment requires sacrifice. In fact, the opposite is true: we can only see social, economic, and environmental gains from solid sustainability practices. The problem is figuring out how to achieve sustainability goals.

Taking the first steps toward sustainability with TONTOTON

sustainability TONTOTON

It’s one thing to understand that sustainability is a good thing. It’s another thing entirely to develop a sustainability strategy that works. You won’t be able to figure it out in a day; many companies and governments have been developing their strategies for years, and once their strategies are put into place, it often takes decades in order to make the transition. However, changes need to be made now before it’s too late.

Programs like TONTOTON’s certified plastic credit system allow companies to take control of their plastic waste now while implementing sustainability strategies (like getting rid of single-use plastics) for the future. 

Here’s how it works: your company purchases plastic credits in an equal amount to the plastic waste that you produce, and TONTOTON removes an equal amount of plastic from the environment. While it’s not a long term solution—we must eliminate single-use plastics entirely—it addresses the immediate problem. 

Furthermore, our projects support and empower local communities, following the important sustainability idea that we must save the environment while encouraging social equality. We use a valuable existing resource, waste pickers, and provide personal protective equipment, proper training, and access to healthcare when needed. Beyond this, we’ve monetized a type of plastic waste that was previously ignored—low-value, post-consumer plastic—providing an additional source of income to waste pickers and individuals in low-income areas. 

Through our work, community members have not only seen improved quality of life because of an additional source of income and better work conditions, but we’ve also gotten to remove literally tons of plastic waste from areas that are the most vulnerable to plastic waste. This reduces disease, brings back marine life that many of these communities depend upon for food, and encourages tourism through cleaner beaches.

Once we’ve purchased collected plastic from waste pickers, we send the plastic waste to cement factories for co-processing: a zero-waste process which converts the plastic to energy and raw materials that are mixed into the cement. As an energy source, plastic is more efficient and cleaner than coal, ensuring that the plastic waste is removed from the environment in the cleanest way possible. It’s a win for everyone.

You need time to develop a sustainable business model. Unfortunately, time isn’t something that the environment has. Buy some time by partnering with TONTOTON to address your plastic waste now. It’s not just good for the environment and local communities, but it’s good for business, too.