Today it’s almost impossible to talk about development and the future without adding the buzzword sustainable. You see it added on fancy packaging in the supermarket, you read it in political articles and you hear business people talking about their new innovative sustainability strategy. The S word is no longer a word just used by some eco-freaks rather it became part of our daily life. But what is the meaning behind this word, why is it good that it’s getting more and more integrated in all corners of our life and how can we reach a sustainable and good future for all through its use?

What’s behind it?

The word sustainability was first used within the context of forestry to describe the logic of not taking more woods out of the forest than the trees can regrow – or in other words: instead of living on the savings, living on the interests instead. In general the term is still used with this meaning but what has changed are the areas where it is used in. This integration can be seen as either just a fancy way how people put things nowadays – or as a sign that we a currently living in a world where all parts of our life should be questioned as they might function in an unsustainable way.

This unsustainable way can be: using too many woods, so a forest gets smaller, spending too much personal resources on work, so our health is affected, or using resources like fossil fuels which can’t regrow, so they will not be available for the next generation.

Social – ecological – economic

When looking at (un)sustainablity there are usually three aspects taken under consideration: the social, ecological and the economic aspect. All of this aspects are important and cursual but depending on who, when and where sustainability is used the different aspects get more or less attention: an NGO supporting women who are working for the fashion industry in Bangladesh might focus on the social aspect, where the local ministry of environment working in the same area looks at the management of the wastewater coming from this industry. On the other side the company who employs the workers will mainly look at economic indicators and how the requests of the other actors can be integrated into them. Here lies one of the major challenges for reaching sustainability in all aspects of life: the different perspectives and ideas of how sustainability should look like.

The need for a common goal

But to take on action and not standing still because of this conflicts various paths can be taken on. For example sustainability can be looked at as lifestyle and therefore should be convenient to be easy to adapt to – taking human needs at first.  Or it can be looked at from the perspective of safeguarding wildlife, where setting up national parks is more important than building infrastructure – taking the needs of wildlife first. An other option would be to look at the need for sustainability from the angle of what’s most urgent – climate crises as the ultimate crux of matter for a good future for all – socially – environmentally – economically. This would mean to set a common goal: stop heating up the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and to subordinate all other interests under this goal. If this can be made clear it might be possible to concentrate the different movements around sustainability to work together.

We can be sure that the S word is no longer just for environmentalists or clever business people hunting the next lifestyle trend – today sustainability is widely known but used in many different ways. Bringing up the topic of sustainability into our daily life and thoughts is crucial for raising awareness for the urgent need to rethink our way of doing things – and spreading the buzzword sustainability plays a major role in this.  But the next step needed is to focus on common goals to make our efforts for a sustainable and good future for all effective.

Author: Bernadette Fessler, Founder of Ecognize