We can all recognise there are clear trends arising around sustainability, including environmental, social and economic matters (the triple bottom line being a framework that seeks the interaction between the three elements). Increasingly we hear about how companies are (at least attempting to) strengthening their corporate social responsibility activities, and how they are striving to become better institutions, both from a social and an environmental-friendly perspective. Some companies due really feel committed to the subject and see the real need of combining growth and profit with a greater good to society and/or the environment. However, to others, sustainability also became a mere tool of marketing. Companies have realized the value of ‘being sustainable’ in the modern world, and use it as a way to promote their products, even though their activities might not fully correspond to their promise. But hey, who’s checking anyway right?
Exactly… Who is checking? How much do we, as consumers, feel responsible or have the needed information to make wiser decisions? How much are we interested in the subject up to the point of actively informing ourselves about the different existing labels and activities around sustainability? How much do we push the responsibility to the companies without questioning our own actions?
It is indeed always easier to blame the ‘big guys’, the ones ‘with power’, the ones making the ‘big decisions’. But have you thought about the products you are buying and how often are you buying them? Isn’t controversial to scrutinize Nike’s poor labor conditions in the production process, but then visiting their stores every three months to purchase new T-Shirts, leggings, shoes? The same applies for all other areas: food, packaging, fashion, travelling, etc, etc. I am not suggesting that we should all become saints and live in the woods with only self-grown nourishment and self-sewed garments (which would be ideal yes, but not realistic for the majority of us). Nevertheless, what I am suggesting is a shift, or better, a balance of responsibility, where actors are full aware of his or her position and their potential for contribution in the system. With actors I mean, all individuals, companies, policy makers, scientists, institutions, etc.
When talking about sustainability, the first thought that comes to many minds is ‘constraint’. The thought of having to limit themselves or to change the known behavioral patterns, creates a lot of resistance and fear (a normal human reaction to any kind of changes really). Interestingly enough, individuals immediately start giving explanations on the various reasons why they specifically cannot change or adapt to new habits. There is a certain blame or need to explain one’s action in response to a perceived social pressure. I say perceived because at the end, we impose all the pressure that we feel to ourselves. However, here is the cool thing about it all; you do not need to change if you do not want to. However, if something bothers you and you would like to reshape or contribute, you can start anytime. It is not about limitations or constraints; it is rather about conscious actions and decisions. It is about acting in accordance to your beliefs and informing yourself where the knowledge is lacking. It is about talking to people, exchanging expertise, understanding different perspectives, different beliefs, and different habits. Embrace what is right for you; make the contribution that you can, when you can. Do understand your limits though and do not overdue to the point of making you miserable and anxious. Where are you willing to do compromises and where not? Ask yourself what makes you feel guilt free, where could you adapt and what is for you a necessity that you could not live without. Nothing in your routine is written on stone, and anything can be adjusted. It is all a question of wanting and acting accordingly. Once you are personally satisfied with your choices and with your lifestyle, you will no longer feel the need of being in the defensive towards other. You can (and should) however exchange your perspective on the subject, without taking it personally or getting offended if others question your actions or defend a different ideal. Being open for different insights and thoughts can only profit your personal development.
Going back to the topic of responsibility… We are all responsible for our own actions. In a holistic point of view, and in accordance with Dalai Lama’s perspective, we, as a human community are all responsible for everything that is happening in our environment, from climate change to wars and poverty. How can you positively contribute? Some steadily argue with me that the small individual actions will not make a difference and that to achieve real impact, policies should be implemented, companies should be lawful to their corporate social responsibility and that interventions should be put in place where needed. I agree with the second part of the statement, but disagree with the first. If no one changes, nothing will change. The more we, as individuals, act, talk, share, exchange, the more we all profit from it (from a social, environmental and economic perspective). I do believe that even the smallest actions can contribute to a better good. Be it reducing the meat consumption, buying more local and organic products, consciously buying key clothing pieces instead of throwing away after one day of usage, repairing malfunctioning products, buying second hand furniture, participating in clothes swaps, etc.
What are your thoughts on the subject? How do you contribute or would like to start contributing? Do you see yourself rather as a part of the system or as a helpless actor?