We are not sustainable

The first letter

We are not sustainable. Not even close.

To be sustainable is to be in balance with nature. Hence to be sustainable, the combination (and not the sum) of all our activities including the timing, execution and consequences of those activities would need to be such that they do not upset the delicate balance that exists within the complex tapestry of systems that are nature. We can not achieve balance by “netting off” vices and virtues any more than we can give a plant more water to make up for a lack of sunlight.

What does this mean for brands and consumers who genuinely want to do their best to be “sustainable”?

Well for today, let’s start by quickly weeding out what sustainability isn’t:
- Being “carbon neutral”, “net zero”, do not make you sustainable (the very idea that we can achieve balance by offsetting a lone crude metric (CO2) is based on misguided, irresponsible and lazy “science”)
- Organic does not equal sustainable.
- Biodegradable does not equal sustainable.
- Recycled, renewable, reclaimed, reused, salvaged, upcycled, vegan, plant based, non-gmo, no palm-oil do not equal sustainable.

To believe that any one of these (or even all of them taken together) will mean we maintain balance with nature is again to fail to appreciate just how complex a set of systems nature is. It is also dangerous. It is the same one dimensional set of thought patterns that fools us into thinking that by growing a tree, refusing a straw or reusing a shopping bag we are doing good (we aren’t, at most we are just doing slightly less bad).

It is the thinking that stops us from asking fifty follow-up questions around how/why/what is this tree and what impact will it have.

It is the thinking that stops us from taking an honest look at where we are and what we are doing that means we have been offered a straw...are we at a bar...on a plane...what are we drinking...what impact does that wider context and set of activities have on nature vs the straw we just so righteously refused?

It is the thinking that gives us a buzz at checkout when we pull out our reusable bag and proudly refuse another...but what are we putting in that bag...how did it get here......how was it made...will we eat it before it spoils...how often/many times will I wear it?

The biggest danger right now is that we fool ourselves (and as a brand, others) into thinking we are doing enough to save her, our beautiful planet. We are not.

These aren’t points to paralyse us nor to trip our “sorry, too woke” safety barrier. They are merely encouragement to keep interrogating and agitating, to look behind and beyond the stories that media, brands, others feed us and perhaps more importantly to always challenge the stories and convenient narratives we tell ourselves.

We as a brand are not sustainable. As much as I wish I could say that the combination of our activities are in balance with nature, they just aren’t. And this isn’t good enough, nor is just posting about it.

Today is the time to dig deeper, as both consumers and brands, and be curious, brave and move towards real change.

 

This is part of a series of open letters about sustainability and others are to follow, approaching many other topics within the sustainable world to encourage consumers an d brands to re-think and look beyond the surface.

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