Sustainability. It seems to be the catchword of the last decade. It often sets off a chain reaction in people and they might be heard mumbling other words under their breath in response, such as greenie, hipster or worse, hippie *gasp*.
Sustainability is not a bad word. Unfortunately, it has a way of evoking a negative connotation because it gets thrown about so loosely these days. We’ve seen the same happen in the health industry with words like, healthy, organic and natural. These words have become so commonplace that they have lost meaning. You see marketers using these terms so widely that we as consumers, are becoming desensitized to what they really mean. We simply take their word and convince ourselves that they have our best interests at heart.
I for one don’t believe that we need packaging to tell us if something is healthy or not. Just because that ‘low-fat, all natural, no added sugar muesli bar’ makes such claims, you will still not find it in my shopping basket. You see, I consider healthy to be far more simpler. The fact they need to claim these things is enough to put me off. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always this way. Take me back just a few years and I was under the impression that I needed to be told these things. I was reliant on having people tell me what to think, how to think and why.
I have since taken it upon myself to get educated and yes, have even had to ‘unlearn’ a lot of what I was taught growing up. Now I choose to use my own discernment and take responsibility for my own life and health. Now I can hold that same muesli bar next to my carrot and say, “Thank you museli bar manufacturers but I know what healthy and natural really means,” and am able to walk away happily munching on my carrot. Who am I kidding? I’m the kind of freak who loves carrots.
So it seems, the use of the word sustainability, has taken a similar turn. The greenwashing of products and services as a political and social stunt is far from admirable. You see anyone and everyone trying to grab hold of this ‘trend’ to capture the growing market in an attempt to make some extra dollars. If you need proof of some lame attempts at greenwashing, check these out.
You might argue that it all contributes to the greater education of the public but need we be taken for being such fools? I say, give the people the freedom to decide these things for themselves. Really, if the media wasn’t sending us such mixed signals in the first place, the human mind would be far more capable of reverting to it’s original state of thinking where we base our decisions on human instinct, we listen to our conscious and we speak up using our own voice. Take for example the hogwash that’s been fed to us for years that science has now officially proven wrong; that saturated fat does not cause heart disease. I’ve written about this here.
Once again, the story of climate change has followed a similar path. It wasn’t really until Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth“, showcased that the mainstream media caught on and brought this topic to the front desk of politics. The science is out there to support that this is real and that we, as humans, have a large part to play in the shift of global climate change.
How did we get to this point?
My grandparents experienced a life where industrialisation was really beginning to turn its wheels and take form. Post The Great Depression, the world was looking for new ways to rebuild and innovate. New efficiencies were being discovered and it was only full steam ahead with headlights beaming brightly at oncoming traffic. No time to look left or right. You either get out of my way or get steamrolled over. No one wanted to be vulnerable. We wanted security. We wanted assurance that our children would not experience the same suffering. This path the world was on; it felt too good, too right, to divert from.
Then came my parents who were being taught the wonders of new science and technology and opportunities grew at a ferocious rate. The human race was developing and learning at such an intense speed now that we were experiencing a revolution of knowledge. Conventional Wisdom began taking shape and all that society held to be true was being dictated by those with the most power and money. We knew what we knew at the time and that was that. Few questions were asked because we knew little about the consequences at the time.
So now we land to my generation. Born into the age of technology booming at full throttle. Factories pumping out thing after thing. Universities pumping out graduate after graduate. A few global crises later though, the cracks were beginning to show. Truth be told, with the growing fields of science and education, so did our awareness grow.
We are at a crossroads now in human development that if we don’t put the brakes on soon, we may see that this train will only have one choice but to derail. Take a note from Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable”. The sad reality is, we might not have him around to save the day for us if we don’t stop for a moment and consider what path we are heading down.
The problem still stands though, how do you go about ‘un’-educating a whole society that’s lived under these false fears and messages that have had so much time and money invested in them?
First step, admit that we were wrong about some things.
Sure, all the way back then, we could not foresee where we would be now. With the good, however, come the bad. It’s in our nature to often overlook the potential consequences when it just feels so good. We can accept that. We can take ownership of that. But now we do know these things and we need to accept this. We need to take ownership of this.
Let’s look at this ‘Sustainability’ word again. Firstly, the word sustainability is derived from the Latin word sustinere (tenere, to hold; sus, up). Sustainability in our society equates to holding up/maintaining a standard of living that satisfies our social, environmental and economic needs. Does this mean we need to put a stop to development? Or do we cap development until everyone has reached our standard of living in the Western Worlds, assuming this is the right stick we should be using to measure what a sustainable society should look like? How do we ‘scale’ sustainability like one would scale production to make it more attainable and economically viable? Is this even necessary? Isn’t scalability often associated with the kind of development we don’t want to encourage as seen in the industrialisation days? We’ve come so far in our modern world, does this mean we all have revert to living like these folk?!
There are lots of good questions that need to be asked and as far as answers go, we have a long way to go still. I do not believe that living sustainably necessarily means we need to sacrifice a decent standard of living. It may, however, require a shift in our thinking as to what we classify as a ‘high standard of living’. We may have to redefine within ourselves what we consider to be enough. We should be careful to not pollute this word, sustainability, with cheap greenwashing tactics. Desensitisation to this word may result in a future that resembles something comparable to a dismal black hole. Now we wouldn’t want that for our children, would we?
What are we waiting for then? Do we really have to wait until things begin to look a bit shifty around here in order to finally say, oh, so we should probably should have done something when we had the chance? It’s like the obesity epidemic. It has taken a whole generation to see that our kids are more overweight and unhealthy than ever before. We’ve been stopped in our tracks. What?! We’ve been doing it wrong it all these years?!
So tell me, do we wait for the ocean to turn into a sludge of toxic waste before we say, hey, you mean I shouldn’t have been washing all those toxic chemicals down the drain all these years? Do we wait for our governments to turn to us and say, hey guys, don’t mean to alarm you, but we’ve run out of places to dump all our garbage and we’ve run out of fossil fuels? Do we wait for our carbon emissions to burn a hole in the atmosphere before we realise that maybe our lives of excess luxury were not so vital to keeping us healthy and happy after all? Oh wait, that’s already started to happen!
It’s time to awaken to our senses again; to learn to listen and pay attention to the human voice inside of us that speaks with compassion, empathy, respect and a sense of moral duty to this planet.
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