Sustainability is a term that refers to methods companies employ that respect the environment and do not use up irreplaceable resources. Ingredients used in sustainable products should only be harvested when it would not deplete or permanently damage the source. Sustainability is what makes it possible for human beings and nature to co-exist in peace for the long haul.
How Things Went Wrong
Unfortunately, the simple, true definition of sustainability has been twisted and misused by some corporations and groups. In fact, the term “sustainability” has been exploited by companies with their own alternate meaning for three decades. It slowly made its way into business lingo by way of becoming an advertising buzz word after the environment movement managed to raise so much awareness that consumers started to look for products that were truly sustainable.
The subsequent greenwashing happened as companies fell over each other to appeal to customers who aimed to support businesses who were conscientious in their environmental practices. While some business were genuinely concerned about doing good and following through with their promises, others simply built an image around being sustainable without any evidence to back up these claims.
The Harm Greenwashing Does
So, some may ask what’s the harm? After all, spreading a positive message is often seen as a good thing. However, when someone buys a product because he mistakenly believe it’s ethical, that stops the person from buying a truly ethical product, thus misdirecting funds. The consumer is deceived, and companies who are truly doing good are not encouraged to keep doing so.
Companies Who Are Doing It Right
While we now strive to sort through the greenwashing to what sustainability really should look like, it’s important to acknowledge corporations that have always taken their environmental impact seriously. It’s vital that the businesses who have worked hard to live up to the talk aren’t harmed by the taking back of the term. Recognition should be given where it’s due.
As part of its mission statement, Ben & Jerry’s acknowledges that, while manufacturing its ice cream will create waste, it works to minimize the subsequent environmental impact of that waste. Also, it supports food production methods that reduce environmental damage.
The Body Shop has implemented the word “sustainability” for a long time to refer to its business practices. Since it was found by Dame Anita Roddick, a human rights activist, in 1976, it has had a clear social and environmental mission in addition to its financial motives. It has sponsored GreenPeace and even founded the Body Shop Foundation in 1990 to further environmental and human rights groups.
Another company that has taken its environmental responsibilities seriously is Tom’s of Maine, which has high quality ingredients from vendors that comply with its ethics. Eileen Fisher is also among the businesses who have come through with their promises; for example, it partners with the American Sustainable Business Council in order to effect change.
What We Can Do
When the Sierra Club introduced the word “sustainability” to consumers in the 1970s, it had the sincere goal of educating people on how preserve natural resources. Just like the environmental movement introduced the term, it is now striving to reclaim it. GreenPeace runs Stop Greenwash, a website dedicated to stopping the harmful practice.
In order to get back to true sustainability, it’s important for each company to take responsibility for its own corporate decisions and the choices the leaders make. Instead of working to solely change one’s image, practices themselves have to evolve in a way that benefits the greater good of society and the environment.