What is Sustainability?

The Definition of Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability Means Zero WasteThe U.N. Commission on Environment and Development definition of sustainability is operating our organizations and living our lives in a manner which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their needs.

Over the last decade, sustainability has changed from an issue that only concerned dedicated environmentalists to an issue recognized throughout an organization as an opportunity for increased profits and competitive advantage.

Sustainability Means Zero Waste

The ultimate sustainability goal is zero impact on the environment through integration with and respect for the natural environment. In the zero waste business model, every resource used in the creation and delivery of a product or service is renewable and completely recyclable. In the zero waste lifestyle, consumers look for products and services that save money, that are healthier, and that are better for the environment.

The chart below helps clarify the challenge of achieving sustainability through achieving zero waste.

Zero Waste:

  • Disposed in landfills
  • Discharged to water bodies
  • Emitted by smoke stacks

100% Reuse of:

  • Resources
  • Byproducts
  • Products of production

Current Production Methods are not Sustainable

Green Business means sustainable products and zero wasteUnfortunately, our current production methods and life-styles are not sustainable. We power our lives with non-renewable natural resources like coal and oil, destroy biodiversity as our cities expand into natural areas, and generate harmful waste from sites like Chernobyl, the BP Oil Spill, and the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island that can be seen from the moon.

The strains our current production methods place on the environment are only expected to increase as world population increases by 50% between now and 2050, and the standard of living continues to advance in developing countries.

This worldwide growth in resource consumption creates a serious risk for ecosystem collapse, massive extinctions, fierce competition—and even wars—for limited resources, and a reduced standard of living for everyone.

Sustainability Acronyms & Terminology

Triple Bottom Line – A method of measuring organizational success that goes beyond the traditional bottom line, which only assesses profitability. The triple bottom line accounts for an organization's ecological and social performance in addition to financial performance.

Corporate Social Responsibility – The deliberate inclusion of public interest into corporate decision-making. This act of corporate sustainability honors the triple bottom line by proactively promoting the public interest, community growth and development, and eliminating practices that harm the public sphere even if the organization is not required to by law.

Externality – A cost or benefit not accounted for in the price of a product or service. There are both positive and negative externalities. For example, manufacturing that causes air pollution imposes costs on all of society, but those costs are generally not paid for by the manufacturer.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) – A method used to analyze the environmental impacts associated with a product, process, or service from the initial collection of raw materials to the disposal of all waste products.

Life-Cycle Costing (LCC) – An accounting methodology to evaluate the economic performance of a product or system over its useful life; it considers operating costs, maintenance expenses, and other economic factors.

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