Sustainability–A Different Introduction

With this post, I am introducing my new blog, SustainableWritings. I am impressed by how much the idea of sustainability has expanded from the environmental community into the general population. The definition of “sustainability” has many components. The most important one is that buying and producing goods and services are not just economic events, but have broader implications. The most obvious of these implications is environmental. The environmental connection (between us and the planet) is the most visible side of sustainability, and the most important.

I am happy the new Obama administration will view the environment as something to protect, not something to just exploit. And my state (Pennsylvania) has some good policies in place as well. However, the long-term success of sustainability rests not with governmental policies (although they will most certainly help). What provides long term sustenance to the concept of sustainability is the collective results of millions of individual (consumer and business) buying decisions. These will ensure the long-term success of sustainability. Ultimately customers and business have to buy and produce these types of products and services. Otherwise, they are not very sustainable economically.

I was reading one of the trade magazines I get, BtoB Marketing (I used to be a marketing consultant in my past). I tend to prefer the business press for this kind of thing because when a business publication does a feature on green, or sustainability or a related topic, it generally reflects marketplace activity, not the dreams of environmentalist advocates. Anyway, the Dec 8th issue had a feature called Green Pays. It was a report on Green Marketing, that is, integrating environmental messages into your marketing. Aside from the key point for “green marketers” being the (what should be) obvious fact that a company needs to actually some environmentally friendly things to trumpet, I was struck by a quote in the article.

A man named Dave Young (a lawyer in Washington DC) was quoted in part as saying, ”You’ve got to be thinking about your product’s entire life cycle—from cradle to grave.” Notice the phrase “product life-cycle”. Mr. Young was saying that customers are caring about not just the product as it is now, but about how it was made, what is in it, where it comes from, who made it, etc. That is, customers are asking more and more questions about the product beyond “does it work?” and “how much does it cost”.

So sustainability is also tied to a broader growth in product transparency Product transparency is also being increased by the new information technologies that are available today. These enable people to acquire more detailed information about the goods and services they buy, communicate with others about what they find, and interact with the companies that produce these goods and services. These kinds of connections create communities that parallel the environmental connections we can feel as we try to emphasize sustainability in our daily lives.

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