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“Sustainability” in the time of climate crisis

By Anna Wallich  |  
May 5, 2021  |  
5 minutes read

Sustainability has always been central to the Maanch message. As an organisation, we’ve been deep in thought about building back better from COVID-19, the climate crisis and its wider implications and COP26. But it’s not just us who are paying attention. Recent events, most topically US President Biden’s recent Earth Day Climate Summit and ambitious climate pledge seem to signify a real turning-point in attitudes towards climate action and sustainable living. What with wildfires in Australia and America, the Amazon rainforest burning, David Attenborough’s A Life on our Planet and the more recent Seaspiracy, it’s becoming harder and harder for people to shut out the rhetoric of climate activists and campaigners such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion. Not only is the public now paying attention, but they are also scared. According to one study by Edelman, in 2020, people were more scared of climate change than of catching Coronavirus. From all this has arisen a key question. In the time of climate crisis, is sustainability enough?

Is sustainability enough?

Some feel that sustainability only limits the destruction of the environment to a level that can be managed. Regenerative sustainability contends that we owe our planet more than this; and should be seeking to restore its natural beauty. With this in mind, we at Maanch wanted to dig deeper into the actual meaning behind the word, “sustainability”. It is defined by the Brundtland Report as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Sustainability by no means necessarily signifies only limiting the destruction of the environment to a level that can be managed. It is much more open-ended than that. For example, regenerative sustainability is not excluded from the broader definition of sustainability.

Greenwashing

Another point that has received a lot of media attention lately is valid concern that the word “sustainable” has been bandied about, inappropriately used and, in some cases, deliberately misused. One example of this is shocking revelations about greenwashing, such as from big corporations with vested interests in the fossil fuel industry. Additionally, there is a growing awareness of the challenge of verifying various labels claiming to certify sustainability. A recent piece by Harvard Business Review asserts that the impact of the measurement and reporting movement has been oversold. Lack of mandates and auditing, specious targets and a general lack of data reliability makes consistency and transparency difficult in sustainability reporting. Public trust in sustainability- and what any given organisation’s claim that they are sustainable actually means- is dwindling.

What if sustainability could be verified?

There is a growing sense that, as the UK prepares to host COP26, it’s becoming increasingly unwilling to tolerate greenwashing. Client Earth published a piece exposing the ‘green’ advertising of some of those companies who are actually most responsible for climate change. And British secret agents have started “green spying” on the world’s biggest polluters to make sure they are adhering to their climate change promises.

Much of this stems from societal pressure. The change in public attitudes towards climate action and sustainable living is pushing many towards sustainable and socially responsible investing. And shareholders and stakeholders alike are demanding real corporate transparency. Corporations must find a way to demonstrate their holistic impact to their stakeholders. One way of doing this is through Maanch’s Net Societal Impact (NSI) approach. NSI enables insight and actions urgently needed to achieve net positive outcomes from overall business operations. Please do get in touch to know more about our corporate offerings.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding current energy consumption issues, one interesting avenue for making sustainability labels more trustworthy is blockchain. Organisations like Ourz use blockchain to increase transparency and make supply chains and sustainability more visible and traceable. They work with companies such as Caffe Carlito, sustainable coffee roasters, to put blockchain-verified labels on their products. This allows the consumer to scan the barcode and see every step of the journey taken by that bag of coffee.

Sustainability as an authentic solution

For a few individuals, lack of trust in “sustainability” claims and labels, alongside the shock and fear factor of recent events and documentaries, might drive them to make admirable lifestyle changes. However, for the vast majority, scaremongering generates burn-out and hopelessness. It is therefore not a practical tactic for driving positive change in general society. 

Clearly, the problem doesn’t lie with the word “sustainable”, or the definition, but in the way it is misunderstood, misused and exploited. Climate crisis is the defining crisis of our time. We have been granted a unique opportunity to build back our society from the COVID-19 pandemic so that it is “better” and more climate-oriented than it was before. But to do so, rather than turning our backs on sustainability, we must work together to generate a culture that rejects the damaging misuse and misinterpretation of the word, condemns greenwashing and demands real social responsibility across the board.


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