What Is Sustainability?

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What Is Sustainability? 

Sustainability is a broad and subjective term.

It can mean many different things to different businesses and different people. To Go Well Consulting, Sustainability means doing business and living a lifestyle without the destruction of natural ecosystems or the exploitation of people, and ensuring how we live and work today doesn’t compromise our tomorrow.

Or as Paul Hawken puts it in his book The Ecology of Commerce, “Sustainability is an economic state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations. Leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life or the environment, make amends if you do.”

As an example, consider whether it is more sustainable to use recycled paper, or virgin paper from a Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified source? When looking at a question like this through a sustainability lens, we consider three main factors. These are commonly referred to as People, Planet, Profit (in no particular order), or also termed Social, Environmental, and Economic, or the Triple Bottom Line (TBL). Some also ad a fourth pillar of Culture.

A diagram indicating the relationship between the “three pillars of sustainability”, in which both economy and society are constrained by the environmental limit.- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability


Rather than just considering the cost of a product, or service, we look at the True Cost or the Cost Benefit. What is the benefit of forestry to the local community? What is the cost to the local environment of cutting down trees? What is the cost to the local community of having logging trucks on their roads? What resources are used in the process of recycling paper? What are the working conditions in the recycling centre? How far and by what method is the paper transported? And so on and so forth.

Simplifying sustainability 

It’s easier than you may think.

As you can see, sustainability can turn into a complete rabbit warren as you dive deeper and deeper into your supply chain and your business practices. Luckily for us, there are frameworks, techniques, resources, assessments, and organisations to help answer these questions, and to help your business, or you personally, work out what are the most Material Topics (what is most important to your business and your stakeholders, and therefore what you should focus on), and where to start.

By looking at your business through a sustainability lens you can work out where savings can be made, resources can be saved, emissions can be reduced, waste can be reduced (or eliminated), culture can be improved, relationships can be formed, PR and branding can be improved, and your business can be future proofed.

And by looking at your own lifestyle through the same lens you can also see how to reduce or eliminate waste, reduce emissions, support sustainable business, and how to become part of the solutions to help solve the massive environmental, social and financial issues that face New Zealand, and the globe, through your own actions and your own purchasing power.

To find out more:

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Sustainable Development Goals

On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit — officially came into force.  Over the next fifteen years, with these new Goals that universally apply to all, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. Read More (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/)

Diagram showing the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development developed by the United Nations – http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

These goals now provide businesses across the globe with a fantastic, validated, framework to work alongside, making the integration of sustainability into your business model easier than ever before. And with the ever-growing numbers of business and organisations adopting the SDGs the expectations and opportunities for others to do the same are also growing. To find out more about what SDGs are right for your business and how you can integrate them, get in touch.

What Is The Circular Economy?

The Circular Economy is a term given to describe a model of how to trade and do business that generates no waste, eliminates exploitation and instigates the designing of products to be reused, repurposed, repaired, or recycled infinitely.
Or for a more technical definition, this is what the Ellen Macarthur Foundation (a leading circular economy organisation) have to say:
``Looking beyond the current ``take, make and dispose” extractive industrial model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital.``

Let’s lead the way New Zealand! 

Understanding the Circular Economy

The circular economy model can be split into two parts, the Technosphere (basically anything that is “man-made” e.g houses, phones, cars etc), and the Biosphere (anything made by nature e.g. plants, animals, humans). Any product in the Technosphere is designed to be shared, maintained or prolonged, reused or redistributed, refurbished or remanufactured, or finally, recycled.

Meanwhile, anything in the Biosphere will simply biodegrade back into nature’s circular model of grow, die, decay (think food waste or compostable packaging). It’s worth noting that everything in the technosphere has been removed from the biosphere (mining for metals, felling for wood, harvesting cotton for clothing etc).

The Butterfly Diagram showing the Circular Economy model. – https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/


An obvious industry to think of when considering the circular economy is that of Energy. By generating energy, or electricity, through renewable resources we know that that is sustainable and circular in nature. But, say we are looking at solar energy, what are the solar panels made of? How long do they last? Where do they go when they are no longer functioning as they should be?

Well, with the circular model approach they would be designed to be easily maintained (tighten a screw or add a layer of nanotechnology instead of throwing it in a landfill), easily repurposed (e.g. used as weatherboards on a house), easily refurbished (new technologies added), or easily recycled back into its original materials (silicon, copper, plastic etc), to be used in the manufacturing of another product.

As well as the design of products the Circular Economy incorporates how we trade. Instead of the linear model of make-buy-dump we look at leasing and sharing products, as well as purchasing recycled materials rather than taking more virgin materials from the Biosphere.

Do you want a washing machine, or do you just want clean clothes? Does everyone need to own a lawnmower or can it be leased by the whole street? Once a newer and technologically advanced version becomes available the manufacturer can take the old one back off your hands and maintain ownership of those valuable materials it’s made of, saving them the need to source new materials, saving waste from going to a landfill, and saving the consumer hassle of having to discard the product.

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To help with your understanding check out the two videos below (as well as doing your own research).

Courtesy of The Ellen Macarthur Foundation  

Courtesy of The Story Of Stuff