Plant some green: Something as simple as plants in the office can add color and life to a room, while also cleaning the air.
Set up a recycling center: Convenience is the key. Place paper recycling receptacles at every desk, and provide centralized recycling in copy areas, mailrooms, near vending machines and lunchrooms.
Do more virtual travel: Make greater use of teleconferencing to reduce long-distance travel. Even trips of just a few hundred miles can result in hundreds of pounds of emissions.
Stop phantom power loss: Computers left on overnight waste up to $100/year in electricity. Use power strips, so employees easily turn off all equipment with one button. Anything with a power light on is using energy, even when it is not being used.
Choose green office supplies: Look for materials with recycled content, rechargeable batteries and products that are made without polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. Replace Styrofoam or plastic cups in the break room with paper or reusable glass mugs.
Go “Green” when you clean: Environmentally-safe cleaning products are widely available. Copy machines also impact indoor air quality, so place an air purifier in the copy room.
Make conservation a priority: On average, one employee uses $300 in annual office supplies. Reduce environmental impact and cost through duplexing, centralizing office supply storage, and buying only what you need. Develop a company-wide conservation policy.
Use body language: Reduce energy use and water consumption by installing motion-activated controls on lights and water faucets.
Join the fun: Look for volunteer opportunities where employees can be part of a community event around Earth Day. Or, start your own Earth Day Celebration!
Assign a “Green Guru”: Give an employee responsibility for researching and recommending new initiatives for your workplace, whether it’s joining a car pooling program or choosing energy-efficient office equipment.
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Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should have brought her own shopping bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment and we should practice ‘green living’ wherever possible.
The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have green living back in our earlier days.” The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
She replied, ‘’ you are right our generation didn’t have the ‘green living’ then.
….Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so they could use the same bottles over and over. Yes, they really were recycling. Now we have milk and other edibles packed in poly bags.
….We walked up the stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every shop and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. We didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol to cut grass in the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. People took the tram or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mothers into a 24-hour taxi service.
….We washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. We dried clothes on a line, not in an ‘energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts;’ wind and solar power really did dry our clothes. We had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And, the TV had a small screen the size of a scarf, not a screen the size of roof. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.
….In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. We actually cooked food that didn’t come out of a packet, tin or plastic wrap and we could even wash our own vegetables and chop our own salad. We drank water from a fountain or a tap when we were thirsty instead of demanding a plastic bottle flown in from another country. We accepted that a lot of food was seasonal and local and didn’t expect that to be bucked by flying it thousands of air miles around the world.
….We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen; and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the post, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
But, isn’t it sad today’s generation laments how wasteful we old folks were because we didn’t have the ‘green living’ back then? ’’
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The word sustainability is derived from the Latin sustinere (tenere, to hold; sus, up). Dictionaries provide more than ten meanings for sustain, the main ones being to “maintain”, “support”, or “endure”. However, since the 1980s the word sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on planet Earth resulting from the publication of Our Common Future, by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission after its Chair, Norwegian diplomat, Gro Harlem Brundtland). That report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This has come to be accepted as the most widely quoted definition of sustainability and sustainable development.
In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. Healthy ecosystems and environments provide vital goods and services to humans and other organisms. There are two major ways of reducing negative human impact and enhancing ecosystem services. One approach towards sustainability is environmental management; based largely on information gained from earth science, environmental science, and conservation biology. Another approach is management of consumption of resources, which is based largely on information gained from economics. Sustainability interfaces with economics through the social and ecological consequences of economic activity.
Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganizing living conditions (e.g., eco-villages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), reappraising economic sectors , or work practices (sustainable architecture), using science to develop new technologies (green technologies, renewable energy, or new and affordable cost-effective practices) to make adjustments that conserve resources. Moving towards sustainability is a social challenge that entails, among other factors, international and national laws, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism.
The evolution and growth of the concept of sustainable development has not been without the misconceptions and myths. I am attempting to give below, a checklist on the top ten myths and misconceptions about sustainability, to help you find the real meaning and value of this simple but much misunderstood concept:
Myth 1: Sustainability is confusing and deceptive
That’s not even close to being true. People have a hard time wrapping their minds around the concept of sustainability. Everyone’s perception on sustainability is different. Sustainability, in common parlance, is the capacity to endure. Or, to put it more simply “don’t take more than your share.” The word sustainability has become so popular in all sorts of marginally related or even unrelated contexts, it means differently to different people. The word ‘sustainability’ has devolved into a meaningless cliché, or it has a real conceptual heft. But, ’sustainable’, which at first conjures up a similarly vague sense of environmental virtue, actually belongs to the second category. “Green” or, even worse, “going green” falls into the first category. You hear this word applied to everything from cars to agriculture to economics. Actually, the concept of sustainability is at its heart so simple that it legitimately applies to all these areas and more. For humans the meaning of sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible planning and management of resources.
Myth 2: Sustainability is the other name for environment
This is not entirely true. The sustainability movement itself, not just the word, dates back to the Brundtland Commission report. Originally, its focus was on finding ways to let poor nations catch up to richer ones in terms of standard of living. That goal meant giving disadvantaged countries better access to natural resources, including water, energy and food, all of which come, one way or another, from the environment. The Brundtland definition of sustainability says nothing about protecting the environment, even though the words “sustainable” and “sustainability” issue mostly from the mouths of environmentalists.
According to Anthony Cortese, owner and founder of Second Nature, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the biosphere. The biosphere provides everything that makes life possible, assimilates our waste or converts it back into something we can use.” If too many of us use resources inefficiently or generate waste too quickly for the environment to absorb and process, future generations obviously won’t be able to meet their needs.
Paul Hawken, the author of Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw it Coming , who also helped to found the sustainability movement , observed: “We have an economy where we steal the future, sell it in the present, and call it GDP (gross domestic product) .”
Because humans evolved in a non technological world, we seem to need some connection to nature to be content. That concept is, though, tough to prove scientifically. Nancy Gabriel, of Sustainability Institute says, “If you look at Western society, you have huge rates of depression, isolation, [and] people who are disenfranchised. I think that reconnecting to the land is an important way of re-establishing a basic level of happiness.”
Myth 3: Sustainability or ‘sustainable’ are synonymous with “Green”
Notwithstanding the fair amount of overlap between the terms, “green” usually suggests a preference for the natural over the artificial. With more than six billion people living on the planet, today, and another three billion expected by the middle of the century, society cannot hope to give them a comfortable standard of living without a heavy dependence on technology.
Electric cars, wind turbines and solar cells are the antithesis of natural but they allow people to get around, warm their houses and cook their food with renewable resources while emitting fewer noxious chemicals. It’s probably more difficult to see nuclear power as sustainable. Unlike the other alternative energy sources, it has long been anathema to environmentalists, largely because of the problem of disposal of radioactive waste. Nuclear reactors are, needless to say, a highly efficient source of power, emit no pollutant gases and can be designed to generate minimal waste besides being meltdown-proof. But calling it green would be a stretch. Calling it sustainable is much less of one.
Myth 4: Sustainability is all about recycling
For some reason, recycling was the enduring message that came out of the environmental movement in the early 1970s. And of course, recycling is important: reusing metals, paper, wood and plastics reduces the need to extract raw materials from the ground, forests and fossil-fuel deposits. More efficient use of pretty much anything is a step in the direction of sustainability. But it is just a piece of the puzzle. We now know that the most important areas in terms of sustainability are energy and transportation. If you think you are living sustainably because you recycle, you need to think again. None of these proposals seems preferable to focusing directly on less wasteful use of resources.
Myth 5: Sustainability is actually a population problem
This is not a myth, but it represents a false solution. Every environmental problem is ultimately a population problem. If the world’s population were only a couple of million people, we would be hard-pressed to generate enough waste to overwhelm nature’s cleanup systems. We could dump all our trash in a landfill in some remote area, and nobody would notice.
Population experts agree that the best way to limit population is to educate women and raise the standard of living (in developing countries). That strategy cannot possibly happen quickly enough to put a dent in the population on any useful timescale. The U.N. projects that the planet will have to sustain another 2.6 billion people by 2050. But even at the current population level of 6.5 billion, we’re using up resources at an unsustainable rate. There is no way to reduce the population significantly without trampling egregiously on individual rights, for example China’s one child policy, encouraging mass suicide or worse.
Myth 6: New technology is always the answer
Not necessarily. Sometimes existing technology can make a huge difference. Sometimes it takes a creative business model. Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi, for example, wants to electrify the world’s car fleet–widely acknowledged as a big step toward cutting down carbon emissions not by inventing a battery that gets 200 miles on a charge but by inventing a better system for letting drivers go as far as they want without recharging. His proposal, which has been adopted on a pilot basis by Israel and Denmark, would create battery exchange stations along highways, analogous to the gas canister exchanges that people now use for barbecue grills. “He’s delivering distance, not better batteries,” says Mark Lee, CEO of the London consulting firm SustainAbility. “There’s an Italian utility that’s selling its customers hot water, not energy to heat water. It’s a different way of measuring, and it gives the company an incentive to be more efficient so it can be more profitable.”
In support of existing technology, Barack Obama made the tactical mistake of pointing out that proper tire inflation could save Americans millions of gallons of gasoline through better fuel economy, during his presidential campaign The Republicans ridiculed him, just as they did President Jimmy Carter for appearing on TV in a sweater during the energy crisis of the late 1970s. Both Carter and Obama were actually right in their own ways.
Myth 7: Sustainability means lowering our standard of living
Not at all true. It does mean that we have to do more with less, but as Paul Hawken argues, “Once we start to organize ourselves and innovate within that mind-set, the breakthroughs are extraordinary. They will allow us to achieve greatly superior rates of resource productivity, which in turn allow us to be prosperous, fed, clad, secure.” The innovation at the heart of sustainable living is a powerful economic engine. “Addressing climate change,” he says, “is the biggest job creation program.”
Myth 8: Sustainability is very expensive
If there is a mountain in the room of sustainability, this myth is it. That’s because, as Gabriel observes, “there’s a grain of truth to it.” But only a grain. “It’s only true in the short term in certain circumstances,” Cortese says, “but certainly not in the long term.” The truth lies in the fact that if you already have an unsustainable system in place–a factory or a transportation system, for example, or a furnace in your house, an incandescent light bulb in your lamp or a Hummer in your driveway, you will have to spend some money up front to switch to a more sustainable technology.
Governments and companies, in general, can take that step more easily than individuals. The Pentagon is determined to cut its energy use by a third, both to save money and to reduce its dependence on risky foreign oil supplies. “Over the past seven years,” Cortese explains, “DuPont has made investments that have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 72 percent over 1990 levels. They’ve saved $2 billion.”
Myth 9: Sustainability results from consumer choices and grassroots activism, not government intervention
Popular grassroots actions are helpful and ultimately necessary. But progress on some reforms, such as curbing CO2 emissions, can only happen quickly if central authorities commit to making it happen. That is why tax credits, mandatory fuel efficiency standards and the like are pretty much inevitable. That conclusion drives free-market evangelists crazy, but they operate on the assumption that wasteful use of resources and the destruction of the environment is without cost, which is demonstrably untrue.
To cite just one example, economic devastation is very likely under even the mildest plausible climate change scenarios, in the form of disruptions to agriculture from shifts in rainfall patterns and growing zones; densely populated coastal areas will be rendered unlivable as sea level rises, and so on. Yet the price currently being charged to people who add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is zero. Putting a per-ton tax on carbon emissions would be wildly unpopular, but it would for the first time account for the real costs of unsustainable energy use.
Free market purists also argue that with respect to the depletion of natural resources, rising prices will automatically push people into more efficient behavior. True enough but the transition can be painful and disruptive.
Myth 10: Sustainability is an easy and simple concept of living
You cannot really declare any practice “sustainable” until you have done a complete life-cycle analysis of its environmental costs. Even then, technology and public policy keep evolving, and that evolution can lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences. The admirable goal of living sustainably requires plenty of thought on an ongoing basis.
All too often, a choice that seems sustainable turns out on closer examination to be problematic. Probably the best current example is the rush to produce ethanol for fuel from corn. Corn is a renewable resource; you can harvest it and grow more, roughly indefinitely. So replacing gasoline with corn ethanol seems like a great idea. Until you do a thorough analysis, that is, and see how energy intensive the cultivation and harvesting of corn and its conversion into ethanol really are.
One might get a bit more energy out of the ethanol than was sunk into making it, which could still make ethanol more sustainable than gasoline in principle, but that’s not the end of the problem. Diverting corn to make ethanol means less corn is left to feed livestock and people, which drives up the cost of food. That consequence leads to turning formerly fallow land, including, in some cases, rain forest in places such as Brazil, into farmland, which in turn releases lots of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Eventually, over many decades, the energy benefit from burning ethanol would make up for that forest loss. But by then, climate change would have progressed so far that it might not help.
To conclude, I would say, it is high time we understand the concept of sustainability, clearly and thoroughly , coming out of our self created hurdles and barriers, false beliefs, myths, misconceptions and dogmas. There is a wealth of advice available to individuals wishing to reduce their personal impact on the environment through small, inexpensive and easily achievable steps. But the transition required to reduce global human consumption to within sustainable limits involves much larger changes, at all levels and contexts of society. The United Nations has recognized the central role of education, and has declared a decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005–2014, which aims to “challenge us all to adopt new behaviors and practices to secure our future”. The Worldwide Fund for Nature proposes a strategy for sustainability that goes beyond education to tackle underlying individualistic and materialistic societal values head-on and strengthen people’s connections with the natural world.
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A new era is dawning in which social, environmental and economic value creation is bubbling up on the horizon.
This executive dossier of IESE Insight from IESE Business School includes the following articles:
* Integrated Reporting in the Cloud : Two Disruptive Ideas Combined- Eccles, Robert G.; Armbrester, Kyle
* New Tools to Capture the Elusive Green Consumer : Reviving a Revolution – Barcelona, Ricardo G.
* Getting to Grips With Take-Back Laws : What’s Yours Is Mine – Atasu, Atalay; Van Wassenhove, Luk
* Aligning Governance Interests for the Long Haul : Owners, Boards & Managers – Berrone, Pascual
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One of the biggest challenges that sustainable companies face is effectively communicating to people that they are, in fact, sustainable. If you’re sustainable, tell somebody. People, customers and clients, in particular, do care about your sustainability programs. But, if you’re not talking about your sustainability programs, people will assume that you’re not sustainable. Being sustainable is not only the current trend, but it is also the best way to ensure a long lifespan for your business, your family and your planet. And, it’s not a lot of hype.
Sustainability tips are top of mind, everywhere we turn. In fact, several studies have shown that while it may appear to be a bit more costly to implement sustainable activities in your everyday business practices, not only do those efforts reduce your expenses in the long run, they actually help to improve your corporate responsibility profile, thereby improving your brand with current customers and potential clients, while also working to improve life on our planet. Improved brand + Improved planet = Increased revenue stream. Companies now have a chance to “do the right thing” while improving the planet.
How can we apply some “sustainable thinking” to our projects and businesses? Here are a few suggestions to bring some sustainable ingenuity to your every day project / business management:
Sustainable Thinking. There are hundreds of ways to make your office sustainable. Here are a few to get you started:
- If you are a small or home-based office, produce your own energy
- If you can’t produce your own energy, look for a supplier that is producing sustainable energy in your area.
- Use as much natural light as possible in the design of your office space.
- Use energy saving light bulbs. Buy office equipment with the best energy ratings.
- Put automatic timers or sensor lights in your bathroom, conference rooms or spaces that are not occupied the majority of the day.
- Buy sustainable products for your office, everything from toilet paper to recycled paper for printing. Promote “think before you print.”
- Use sustainable materials when building a new office, such as using bamboo instead of wood flooring. Use environmental or natural cleaning products.
- Switch off computers, photocopiers and other equipment when not in use.
- Promote a “reuse” mentality and lead by example. Use refillable ink pens vs. disposable pens. Use coffee mugs instead of disposable paper or Styrofoam.
- Support and buy the products of other vendors and suppliers who are eco-friendly.
- Support virtual office employees or support car-pooling and ride sharing if in a suburban area.
- If you’re in a rural area, try creating a wildlife trust around your company’s property.
Sustainable Materials. Are you using materials that have been recycled and are you recycling the materials that you’re currently using? Regardless of what industry you work in, a little research can make a big difference in your project’s carbon footprint.
Sustainable Packing. Packing materials for products can produce a lot of waste. Can you use recycled materials for packing, such as old newspapers? Consider biodegradable packing peanuts and environmentally friendly soft foam.
Commitment to Sustainability. When you make sustainability more than a passing fancy, you show your team and your customers that you mean business. You’re not just being trendy; you’re making changes that impact the world around you.
Publicizing Sustainability. There’s already a lot of bad news out there. Your customers want to hear about the good things that you’re doing. So, if you have a sustainable initiative or a project with a sustainable heart and soul, talk about it. Get the buzz going. Publicizing sustainable business practices are only bad when you are insincere.
When it comes to achieving sustainable development or saving the planet, who better to lead the charge than large corporations, companies and established business houses? Who knows better than them about tackling something large with small milestones that make a big difference? Several large and small businesses are concerned that if they identify their sustainable practices, consumers will then fault them for other business practices that are not yet sustainable. Don’t worry! By demonstrating your commitment to moving the needle, to reducing your carbon footprint, to reducing your contributions to non-biodegradable waste, etc., your customers will applaud and appreciate your efforts. They may even start singing your praises and become your advocates. And, who is better for customer retention and acquisition than excited and satisfied existing clients – no one. It can be easy being sustainable. Just bring a Sustainability Officer on board to get it done.
So how do you tell the world that you are sustainable? The answer is simple – track your efforts, their impact and then tell somebody. Without tracking and measurement, all communication is just hot air. As you track your efforts, tell people. Tell your employees, tell your friends, tell your family members – and tell them through all forms of media, on line, in person, via email, on the phone, over drinks, at dinner, brochures, blogs, websites, you name it. Don’t be shy. This is good news! You’d be surprised how much traction a basic message can achieve when there are measurable actions that make a difference. Your message and your business will become viral before you know it.
Make your sustainability message plain and simple. Say it always and often. Incorporate your sustainable messages into your everyday business practices so that you and your employees know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how you are making a difference, in your business, your personal life and the lives of all and everyone that your business impacts.
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