Three Components that Create a Sustainable Future

sustainability_metaphor_320I receive numerous calls from suppliers promoting their business and products as being “green” or sustainable, inquiring us to do business with them. I recently received a call this afternoon from a salesman who began telling me his company is looking for resellers of their “green, sustainable products.” When I asked the salesperson to describe what he meant by green, he began telling me his company’s products are bio-degradable or compostable and made of a recycled material.

I asked him where his company manufactured their “green, sustainable” products, and he said mostly the products are made in China and Mexico.  

“How do you consider a product green, or sustainable, when you are shipping it half-way around the globe, spewing forth the heaviest, nastiest, unrefined crude oil (the fuel that powers ocean-going vessels), creating a very heavy carbon footprint, in the transport of your products from China to here?” I asked.

At that point he attempted to justify his company’s practices and behavior by informing me that because there is so much product being shipped here from China, the transportation is actually much more energy-efficient.

So I asked, “Then, what happens if I order the product and I’m inland from either U.S. coast?”

“Oh, we have warehouses in California,” he said.

“And is fuel used to move your product from California to Texas?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that same fuel used to move your product from California to Texas have been used if the product were manufactured here in the U.S.? Plus, you’re now adding the fuel (increasing carbon footprint) used in transporting from China to here?”

He had no answer for me. You see, there is a big problem with the way we have been convinced it is acceptable to do business. Our U.S. business schools are teaching it, our U.S. companies are teaching it, and everyone seems to have bought in, including consumers.

It is not ok to continue shipping products here from China, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, etc., expending millions or billions of tons of fuel, emitting millions of tons of carbon and greenhouse gases, just to have ever cheaper products. IT IS NOT OK!

Look at our economy, destroyed by greed, corruption and deceptive and unethical business practices, while businesses continue believing they are doing us all a justice by bringing more and more products here from abroad, particularly China.

At a time when we need to create more meaningful jobs here, we need to begin bringing back home all our lost manufacturing and production. To me, the objective of creating a sustainable planet for future generations is only accomplished by addressing three components:

  1. Environmental sustainability – buy as close to the place of usage as possible or, preferably, buy local. I’m always certain to put back more than I take, making damn sure I am leaving enough resources for future generations to meet their needs.
  2. Social sustainability/responsibility – buy products made in a way that allow us to support our families, friends, local community, and national community with a living wage. To support indigenous communities in other countries, let’s teach them sustainable practices, not continue degrading their resources and human capital to satisfy our greed and unbridled consumption, as we are now.
  3. Economic sustainability – retain manufacturing and commerce as locally as possible. Like Henry Ford once said, “We have to produce cars our workers can buy, or, pay our workers so they can buy our automobiles.”

If we are to create a truly sustainable planet, we must address all three components of sustainability — environmental, social and economic. If we don’t, we’re going to pass on to our children an unsustainable future.

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