Demystifying Sustainability

We hear the word sustainability a lot nowadays. But do we all have the same understanding of what it is about?

Here are some common misconceptions surrounding the concept of sustainability.

Misconception 1. Sustainability is simply a buzz word.

Everywhere we go, sustainability seems to be a buzz word – in corporate responsibility, lifestyle choices, product options and even dining preferences. As much as it is good that there is a great buy-in from more and more people, this is not only a trend for Millennials and the Generation Z.

The General Assembly of the the United Nations tasked the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, later known as the Brundtland Commission, to formulate “a global agenda for change.” Chaired by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, the group published Our Common Future in 1987 which defined sustainable development/sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Source: World Economic Forum, Encyclopedia Britannica

Misconception 2. Sustainability is only about the environment.

When we randomly asked Filipinos across generations what first comes to mind when they hear the word sustainability, most typically referred to the environment, being eco-friendly and having the ability to last for the long haul.

Following the definition in Our Common Future, sustainability may be anchored on the conservation and protection of the environment which serves as the very habitat where people, plants and animals live. However, it also refers to economic growth that is shared and felt by all, human rights in labor and social issues, and equitable access to basic services such as food sufficiency, healthcare, education and shelter. Lastly, it also means that our society is founded on good governance.

Misconception 3. Sustainability is a luxurious lifestyle.

There is a common perception that having a sustainable lifestyle is luxurious and expensive. On the contrary, sustainable practices actually help save resources.

With the Philippines faced with El Niño, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) closely monitors oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the country. To help families cope with the effects of El Niño, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) provides these water saving tips to Filipinos.

These tips prove that sustainable habits like water conservation not only conserves water but is also easier on the budget.

Misconception 4. Sustainability is an alternative lifestyle and will never be the norm.

It is also a typical misconception that sustainability is an alternative lifestyle for hippie or bohemian ways of living, and is not applicable to day-to-day lifestyle choices of the greater majority.

Sustainability presents ECO-friendly choices: ECOlogy Friendly and ECOnomic Friendly. A simple example of this would be inverter technologies like inverter air conditioners, washing machines and other appliances. Although it may require upfront initial investment, it presents to be not only environmentally friendly but also economically efficient in the long run.

Another simple example is the use of reusable bags. What used to be simply an option has now become the norm that most follow. More people are developing the habit of carrying reusable bags with them as shopping bags. Apart from bags, more people are even developing the habit of bringing their own coffee mugs, thermos and even reusable straws, chopsticks and utensils.

Misconception 5. Sustainability is a personal choice and should never be mandatory.

We only have one planet and the need to create a more equitable and sustainable society is for everyone’s best interest. The United Nations works with nations towards the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are key factors to achieve the kind of “utopia” we are all aspiring for.

With a small attempt to clarify these 5 common misconceptions, I hope that we are able to have a better handle on what sustainability is about.

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