Sustainability has become something of a buzzword these days. Politicians, businesses, and environmental protestors throw it around all the time, but it has a much deeper significance than its vague usage implies: usually nothing more than “being good for the earth.” Sustainable products are certainly good for the earth, but their production and use make a larger impact than that phrase suggests. Sustainability isn’t just about reducing our impact on the planet; it negates the impact, striving in packaging and development to end up as a net zero in its waste, carbon footprint, and byproducts. That high standard means pure sustainable products are a rarity, but the companies that at least strive for sustainability help the earth tremendously more than traditional production methods.
A music festival in Seattle, Washington recently tried to do the impossible: put on a three-day musical event while achieving perfect sustainability. Because any festival requires a lot of migratory attendees, their goal seemed unlikely. But when purchasing tickets, people had the option of buying a carbon offset that was equal to driving a certain number of miles in a car. The festival itself served organic food on biodegradable dishes, and it employed a large team of people specifically devoted to recycling the concert park every night. Woodstock had a lot of talent and free love, but it also left a landfill of trash and debris that infected the earth. Seattle’s endeavor might not have reached net zero, but it’s proving that even music festivals can become sustainable products.
The danger in repeating environmental statistics is that even the most green-minded of people can become desensitized to the effects we’re having on the earth. Every day _____ trees are cut or burned down for lumber or ranches; every hour _____ gallons of fuel are consumed by huge SUVs; every year ______ thousand plant, animal, and insect species go extinct from a loss of habitat. The actual figures are devastating, and as inhabitants of this world, it’s a tragedy all humans share. Some cynics think the damage is too severe, the rates too fast to stop, but others are realizing their choices matter. They may not be able to turn their backyards into replacement rainforests, but they can at least buy sustainable products that don’t use up natural resources. The best way to do that is just being informed.
Old liberal college professors gained a reputation for laying blame on the “man,” so we’ll refrain here. It has to be noted, though, that the majority of corporations and product manufacturers care solely about money, and while sustainability can be done on a budget, their scorch earth policy tends to inflate profit margins. Packaging is large and unnecessary, because a lot of Americans have been trained to think bigger is always better; chemical waste is easier to dump in a river than to disappear completely with different manufacturing methods; animals are fed growth hormones so they can be eaten at four months, rather than at twelve. When money is all that matters, this rationale makes sense, but once these companies have burned through every natural resource, their profits will reach zero. That’s why sustainable products matter. Sustainability isn’t about reverting to Cro-Magnon ways, where everything is reused, where pollution is impossible. It’s about living the lives we already have, using the products we already do, just in a way that ensures human lives can still be around in a dozen, hundred, or thousand years.