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Is “sustainability” the new mindset? Part 1
In this first post of a three-part series, Ailuna’s Product and Impact Strategy Advisor, Renée LaPlante examines “sustainability” and explores whether it’s becoming the new mindset for everyday life.
8 minutes to read
A quick Google search today for the word “sustainability” will deliver you over 5 billion results in 0.65 seconds. According to Google’s Year in Search 2021 report, “sustainability” was searched at record highs worldwide. Other related word trends include “how to conserve,” “second hand shop” and “how does eating less meat help climate change” which all surpassed worldwide or country-specific search records.
So, it would appear that “sustainability”—which refers to the ability of something to continue over (a long period of) time—in its many facets of meaning, is certainly catching on. If global citizens are searching Google to learn how to help things last longer, use what exists, and make a connection between daily meat meals and methane heating our atmosphere, the notion must definitely be present in our hive brain.
This is good!
But how can you know at a personal level if you’re being sustainable and living in sustainable communities? Have you asked yourself what sustainability means to you?
Well, what exactly are we aiming for?
The word “sustainable” is quite fungible and can be warped into various meanings for convenience. Its definition is so wide that with a little tweaking one can claim just about anything is sustainable—which is why greenwashing is possible and unfortunately common.
My annoyance with this fact—and impatience with the snail pace of government and corporate action—led me to seek out something that I could objectively measure so as to evaluate my personal sustainability. That’s when I discovered carbon footprint calculators. Upon answering a series of mildly invasive questions, I had a satisfying picture of my life through the lens of greenhouse gases. (Yes, footprints are flawed because they’re too narrow, but they are measurable and personally relatable unlike many other squishy environmental topics!)
This experience helped me confront my “eco identity” and realize I had not been so eco after all – I had been spending my already scarce time on low-impact actions. I was out of date! But with the very detailed Swiss WWF Footprint Calculator, I had a clear way to quantify how my life’s actions heat up our atmosphere and even suggestions about personal ways I can slow climate change.
Brilliant, I was ready to evolve. Let me share what this look liked for me.
(It’s worth quickly noting that I’m not so delusional as to believe that my or our personal actions alone will fix rapid climate change. However, if we don’t understand what’s going on, and have willingness to evolve our own lives, plus empathy for those in less privileged situations, we can’t change it! So, I approached this as a personal learning and empowerment exercise in preparation for my systemic involvement.)
Now, as with any transition, we all need something to change toward, not just away from. Most media and narratives today alert us to the things we should be running, screaming away from (thank you #dontlookup!) but often leave out the parts that draw us forward into a future we really want.
Credit: Netflix 2021, Don’t Look Up
What’s the positive vision, then?
I took a minute to paint a picture of milestones I could steer toward. This is my draft, which I encourage anyone to adjust for themselves:
I imagine our sustainable future as a time when:
- We can’t even buy unsustainable things because sustainable products are the norm and everyone knows the difference.
- Polluting and disrupting nature is considered a crime against humanity (and is enforced!).
- Safeguarding nutritious soil, clean water and air, plus taking steps to prevent and minimize natural disasters is a national duty.
- Government leaders have the courage to stop the many things that waste our money and make us sick because they measure “Gross health and wellbeing” not GDP.
- Teams who creatively meet needs in the most equitable way, without waste, are considered the Innovators.
- Every person’s basic needs are reliably and equitably met.
This sustainable future starts to emerge when:
- We each take personal accountability for our Greenhouse gases and work to reduce our annual carbon footprints swiftly downward to 2 Tonnes (which is what scientists say the planet can sustain over the long term).
- Products and services become truly “cradle to grave” and “circular”.
- We know that “we” is smarter than “me” and we get good at creating safe spaces to listen to each other out of love and respect.
- We re-design, iterate and implement systems effectively together.
- We invest our time and money only in projects/programs/organizations and businesses that “protect nature” “care for people” and “regenerate,”.
- Causes of inequity are addressed and every privileged person lifts up someone else with less means.
This sustainable future is possible because we:
- All feel connected and resilient,
- Use science, data and indigenous wisdom to guide us, and
- Believe in ourselves.
You don’t have to agree with what I wrote; my message to you is to at least have a vision of your sustainable future. My vision keeps me motivated and focused on what matters to me. I found my inspiration and solid pointers from experts out there like Drawdown.org, the SDGs, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Doughnut Economics and WWF, so maybe you can, too.
Before you know it, you’ve started on a journey
Once you have a vision of where you’re headed, it’s next to impossible to stand still. Who doesn’t want to skip happily toward the concepts that feel aligned to one’s values and representative of achieving one’s potential? If you’ve ever met someone bursting with energy, who appears “full of optimism” and contagious in their courage, you’ll know they’re clear about where they’re going.
I’m lucky enough to say this is how I feel most of the time, despite working on humanity’s greatest challenge which can be quite heavy at times. Big downers do happen, and cultivating personal resilience is essential. Still, every time I see another person, a company or a government standing up and moving in the direction of my vision, I get even more motivated! And the momentum is always growing. It brings me so much joy to meet others on this journey, have moments of camaraderie and to give each other high fives and well deserved pats on the back.
What I’ve also come to appreciate is that endurance is embedded in sustainability. To navigate this big transition together, it helps us to accept early that sustainability will never really be “finished.” Rather, it’s a process of ever-deepening our knowledge about the 9 planetary boundaries that scientists say we must remain within to safeguard ourselves from abrupt large-scale or irreversible environmental changes. Some thresholds have already even been exceeded and need to be reigned in. Thus, we are also each charged with understanding this and meeting our personal and group needs within these bounds—as soon as possible.
Planetary Boundaries from The Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Credit: J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al. 2015.
So, as you have probably gathered, sustainability isn’t a single destination or a particular list you can check off, rather, we’d help ourselves to think of it as a mindset and set of guardrails that help us discern and navigate this essential journey. A journey we can each proactively start now, and the sooner the better.
I hope this inspires you to calculate your carbon footprint, water use or ecological footprint and write up a draft vision, too, so you have both a clear starting point and image pulling you forward. And, try out a couple actions in the Ailuna App—you can start right away with making progress on something specific that feels possible and impactful to you.
Let your journey begin!
→ Stay tuned for Part 2 of Is “Sustainability” the new mindset?
About the author
Renée LaPlante is a culture strategy, people performance and engagement leader who after a decade at Google decided to face humanity’s biggest challenges. In 2018, Renée set a goal of reducing 10-tonnes off her personal carbon footprint, and succeeded! She founded the Social Impact project Decarbonista—a people-centric, judgment-free coaching approach—to accelerate personal carbon footprint reduction through workshops, coaching circles, social media and community. Her “you can do it too” book on personal footprint reduction is coming soon, subscribe here to be the first to know.
Renée’s 25 years of experience come from corporate roles in advertising, technology, NGOs, and today as an Independent Consultant guiding future-necessary organizations to co-create intentional, inclusive cultures and align incentives and behaviors with their goals through transformative change management. She advises Ailuna on their Product and Impact Strategy and she would love to hear what you think about this article.