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Sustainability: From noun to verb

Corporate South Africa has long been riding the market value of buzzwords quite irresponsibly, along with the rest of a seemingly logically challenged world of commerce.

Sustainability is one of these words. It exists in the minds of the economically driven community as a noun, something that pertains to a state of being towards which we should all theoretically strive, but something that is rarely felt and made real and tangible. Perhaps to be compared to a state of operational nirvana; heaven, but we don’t know how to attain it.

There exists a gap in translating the spirit, ideals and practical implications of sustainability and instead it has become a convenient term to hide behind when describing any activities aimed at reaching corporate responsibility scorecard targets. How has compliance with social-investment targets conveniently qualified as sustainability markers? Why do nominal investments into communities and sponsorships of events, groups and teams qualify for sustainability brownies? Fundamentally, why do organisations not understand what sustainability entails and how they should approach it? It is not rocket science and, hey, we’ve done well on that front!

Sustainability requires one critical element: consideration of the long term. Sustainability means anticipating the future and reacting in such a way so as not to compromise the ability of future generations to anticipate their futures; that is, creating the belief in a future.

Sustainability requires clarity of thought, vision, long-term planning, collaboration and perpetual motion. Above all it requires action and having an impact. Sustainability should refer to everything with which we as humans occupy ourselves, and become an integral part of our blueprint.

So how then do we translate sustainability (n) into action? We start considering 20 years from now as seriously as if it is tomorrow. This does not mean we live in the future; it means that we have a vision of what we want our ideal future to be, from which we can create a road map to get us there. The first challenge to every single person with the power to have an impact (that means you) is to dream the ideal future and then to make it so. The second challenge to these same people is to make it happen in such a way that future generations have the same two challenges.

It is not only about investment; without education, training, building, dreaming, sharing and creating, sustainability becomes driftwood on the beach of time. How can we create the biggest felt sustainability project the world has ever seen? Perhaps the beeswax from Zambia is not really such a serious requirement in my shower gel and those figs from Turkey … well, I can probably do without them. Perhaps I should look at my own personal ecological footprint and start actively reducing it.

As an individual, I can choose what I purchase and from where. As a consumer, I have the right to demand sustainable practices from retailers and manufacturers. As an inhabitant of Earth, I have the responsibility to look after it and my fellows. As myself, only I can choose my future. As a literate person, it is my task to learn and understand what can be done, in order to teach and share the knowledge with a receptive audience.

Essentially, sustainability depends on our ability to provide for our own requirements and deal with our own waste, through recycling, reusing and regenerating. How do we create global sustainability?