What really defines sustainability?
7 March 2012 -

We who work on trying to make corporations more sustainable, do we ever just sit back and think about the    definition of sustainability? Yesterday I passed the grand opening of the new Mac store in Amsterdam. Endless lines of people were munching on apples that were handed out, there was a party atmosphere, it was the place to be…

Now let’s rewind to a few days before when I went to the old Mac store to get a charger for my laptop. I was unceremoniously told that my PowerBook that I had spent US$ 2,500 on in 2006 was considered vintage. They no longer supported it.

That made me wonder how sustainable companies like Apple really are. Apple bombards us with the latest in technology and design several times a year, presenting the high tech gadget that we have to have. Each one of those gadgets is made from rare earth minerals, scarce finite resources, and their production uses large amounts of energy. Telling us that we have to ditch our PowerBook for a newer MacBook is asking us to ignore the fact that finite resources went into making our new must-have technology.

I then got to thinking what really is sustainable and how I can define it. My answer is found in a simple Land Rover and the fact that 70% of all Land Rovers ever produced since 1948 are still in use! That means that raw materials, finite minerals and energy used in production were, for the most part, only used once.

Sustainability really means making things that last, that one holds onto for year after year. It means supporting repairs. And when the product’s life cycle is over, it is recycled. Making your supply chain more transparent, using organic and fair trade materials, creating energy efficient centres is all good and well; but when you push an endless slew of new products onto consumers, it is all really green wash in the end.

- Vicky Valanos
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