We hear it everywhere, we talk about it among our colleagues, family members and circle of friends in business meetings, social media, and advertising platforms. It’s a concept born out of the need to combat the exploitation of natural resources and to meet the needs of today without compromising the capabilities of future generations to meet their own needs.
How can we address the issues of energy, food, climate, chemicals, renewable resources and globalization well within ecological limits? Sustainability is a key in addressing such challenges we face in our daily lives. It’s a concept that everyone can work towards because even the smallest things we do can gravely impact our future and make a difference.
Capitalism vs. Shared value
Capitalism, being the dominant economic system, plays a crucial role in the formation of a sustainable society. However, times are changing and what used to work before might not work now. What’s more, many of today’s environmental, social and economic challenges are being blamed on corporations. So, if we want a sustainable future and society, we need economic systems that really work. And creating shared value is the way to go – it’s the way to reinvent capitalism. But just what is shared value? It’s more than just creating economic value. It’s about realigning your business to create values that address the challenges and needs of societies.
Is Fair Trade Really Fair?
What started out as a simple means of helping people in developing countries has now evolved into a multibillion-dollar trade that’s helping address poverty and empowering producers in poor countries – or not! Not that we’re being skeptical of fair trade policies but as socially conscious consumers, we can’t help but ask ourselves if fair trade is really being fair to our farmers in poor countries. Are we sure that our money is really going to good causes? How do we gauge it? Who is making sure that it is really fair and ethically acceptable? Who is ensuring that the rights of farmers are not being violated? Critics of the fair-trade movement are arguing that fair trade doesn’t help the poor rather, it’s more beneficial to traders in rich countries. They argue that joining the fair trade requires specific quality and political standards that are obviously difficult for poor farmers to comply with. Another argument is that little money reaches farmers. It’s difficult to find out if the extra money we pay for the goods is really reaching them. There’s not much evidence proving that farmers receive a good sum of the money. Our purchasing power is crucial in helping producers in developing countries but the more critical factor is our discernment of these fair trade-marked products being sold to us. It’s becoming more of an appeal to our emotions rather than helping consumers have a better grasp of the situation and become more proactive in exercising their purchasing power.
Going organic is Green Washing?
Going green is a growing trend among health-conscious and eco-conscious consumers. It’s seen as a sustainable means and ecologically responsible practice of using natural resources. However, this growing trend has recently come under fire mainly because of the integrity in labelling goods as organic. A lot of organizations spend more time and resources in claiming to be eco-friendly through marketing and advertising than they actually practice. It’s a form of deception that is making everything all the more complicated because we have consumers who really want to positively impact the environment but the more that they “go green,” the more that they unknowingly harm the environment and help these deceptive organizations profit.
The Principle of Permaculture
How then can we gauge if something is legitimately eco-friendly and not just greenwashing? Understanding how permaculture works is one way. Permaculture originated from the words permanent and agriculture. It is an ingenious agricultural design process that incorporates ethics and social design principles geared towards sustainability and self-sufficiency. As a consumer, understanding how permaculture works is one big step in being self-sufficient and avoiding greenwashing. It’s a way to avoid greenwashing and counter the linear economy perspective. In permaculture, you are guided by three interwoven ethic principles – care for the people, care for the earth and the concept of fair share. Agroforestry, rainwater harvesting, intensive rotational grazing, fruit tree management and natural building are among the common permaculture practices adopted today. Permaculture can be likened to the circular economy where wastage of resources is avoided. It’s a more viable and legitimately eco-friendly practice than simply buying green-labelled products. And what permaculture does on a larger scale is that it contributes to sustainable economic development.
Shared value, capitalism, fair trade, greenwashing, permaculture – all these things relate to sustainability in one way or another. Understanding the core principles behind these concepts and terms is important just as much as it is important to understand what sustainability really is. For without enough knowledge on these concepts, a surface-level understanding of sustainability would not suffice.
Patrick Roupin is an expert in innovation, design, strategy & entrepreneurship.
Ashrefunisa Shaik is an expert in organizational transformation & sustainability.