Why sustainability matters

This is not going to be a post about deforestation or lack of action to stop climate change. Those are important topics but sustainability also matters for different reasons. We are not only destroying the habitat of animals and plant species, which are rapidly growing extinct, we are also destroying our own habitat.

Last year my university’s group for the entrepreneurship student contest lost in the final because they did not consider sustainability in their pitch. So sustainability also matters for investors. Because the word sustainable is often used as an empty phrase, it is important to not only increase awareness of sustainability but also foster a deeper understanding of how vast the concept of sustainability actually is.

If someone asks you whether you think you are achieving a sustainable lifestyle, you may answer: “Of course I do. I turn off the lights when I leave the room and I recycle.” However, sustainability always has to be seen in the wider context of the system.

Recycling can actually be argued to be a danger to sustainability because it causes people to feel less guilty about their consumption. But consider how much energy and fuel goes into collecting, transporting (often to ridiculously faraway places from Europe like China) and actually recycling your trash.

Even a ‘sustainable’ lifestyle dedicated to reusing rather than recycling is still not fully sustainable. Products produced to be ‘greener’ by 10% are still bad for the environment. The solution is not always inventing new stuff. Often the actual problem is stuff.

This is an interesting touch point for designers and entrepreneurs. How can you, rather than inventing a new product that will add just as much to the pollution of the environment as previous ones, design experiences, which do not require new products and rather reuse old ones?

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