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Sustainability is important so let's work together to make it happen


Sustainability doesn't mean giving up the things we love but it does mean change.

Imagine, you go to turn on your car and there’s no more gas, not just in your tank but anywhere, what would you do? Do you live close enough to a grocery store to walk over to get your food? No? Me either. I could do it, but it would probably take me all day to walk over, do some shopping, take it home and repeat until I got all my shopping done. The truth is, we haven’t really set up our current society to be very sustainable. We commute great distances to our jobs, we build our homes away from the amenities we need and our homes often require a great amount of energy to run. Many of the products and services we use, while convenient, harm the planet or ourselves in the long-run.

What is sustainability?

What do they mean when they talk about sustainability? The simplest explanation refers to the three P’s: people, planet and profit. While many people (and companies) think of sustainability only in terms of the environment (the planet portion), we also need to consider the social aspect too. A company that does well for the planet but treats its people unfairly is not practicing sustainability.

Why should you care about sustainability?

So why should you care about sustainability too? Well, for starters, it’s logical. We generate too much garbage the way we currently live. Imagine for a moment if you shrunk down the world to include just you and your neighbours to your left, right and behind you. Say this results in six homes in total. Now, think about the garbage you generate. Where are you going to put it? Do you want it in your yard? Should you throw it in your neighbour’s yard? Which one? The one furthest away from you? The reality is that the world is not that large and we’re not all that far apart. The garbage we are generating today with the way we live will eventually catch up to us.

By the way, did you know that when garbage breaks down in the landfill, it emits methane? We now know this is way more potent than carbon when it comes to climate change effects.

Have you ever thought about why we live in a throwaway culture? We buy stuff that took years to make, use it briefly and then throw it away. From there, it sits for decades or longer in a landfill. It really doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, does it?

We don't have to give up everything to be more sustainable

Now I know, you are not going to want to give up the conveniences that make your life easier. I don’t either. So, what if we didn’t have to? My vision for a sustainable world is idealistic. I dream big, envisioning a modern world with modern conveniences that is sustainable. Some might say this is impossible but I believe in our own human potential. We invented the telephone, the airplane, the Internet, modern medicine to treat diseases that not that long ago would have killed us. I believe we can do the same to live in a sustainable world. We’re already on our way really. Have you seen how beautiful those Tesla’s are?

Green jobs in a low carbon economy

On the subject of cars, there is a lot of talk about the oil industry today and its effects on the planet. People often make the point that if you shut down oil, and reduce what people purchase it will throw thousands of people out of work, therefore it’s bad for the economy. Did you know that current estimates are that the renewable energy sector now employs more people than the oil sector? Changing the way we live doesn’t have to mean less jobs but it might mean different jobs and, so far, “green” jobs are growing.

Not everyone can transfer their skills to a new sector however, although many can. Remember when I said sustainability refers to people too? We must find ways to support those who are not able to transition to this new economy. We must be creative in helping them move to new jobs to ensure we are successful in promoting sustainability for all and not just for some. We can’t resist sustainable living simply because there will be change. Change happens every day regardless.

What can we do?

So, what should we do? To start with, I think we need to brainstorm. We need to share ideas and tips with each other to help us all live more sustainably. If we all start small, we can make a difference. What do you do to live more sustainably? Here are a few things my family and I have incorporated into our life as we slowly transition to living more sustainably:

  1. We meal plan. I am on a student budget which means every penny counts. So, this one is great financially as well. We have found that one of the main advantages is that a little time invested saves us not only time but money as well and we minimize our food waste.

  2. We use reusable bags or bins at the grocery store. Now that they are charging for those bags, this also saves us money. I have to admit though, we still sometimes forget them at home, but, we’re getting there.

  3. We try to spend our money with companies that match our values. As one example, Costco pays a good wage to its people (which it finds reduces turnover by the way) and I appreciate their efforts in this regard. Not only can I buy some items in bulk to reduce our family’s packaging waste but the prices are good for the most part and they are paying their people a decent wage (remember the social side of sustainability?)

  4. I’m pretty busy, but I do try to do a little research to buy products that have fewer harmful chemicals for my family and I and, additionally, products that won’t harm the environment. One change I love that we have made is using vinegar and water with a couple of drops of lemon or orange essential oil (my husband doesn’t like the smell of vinegar). This mixture works like a charm for cleaning everything from the floors to the walls to the table. As added benefits, it’s inexpensive, works well, it’s non-toxic for the kids and pets and it’s easy to make.

Let's brainstorm together

I would love to hear from you with your tips to living more sustainably in a modern world without sacrificing modern conveniences. You can reach me on Twitter @leannekeddie. It’s not always easy to live more sustainably in a world that is not set up for it, but if we all brainstorm together, I know we can make it happen..

About the author

Leanne Keddie is a Concordia Public Scholar, PhD Candidate in Accountancy and also a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CMA). She has a Bachelor's degree in Commerce from Mount Allison University and a Master of Business Administration from McMaster University. Her current research investigates why companies use sustainability goals in executive compensation packages, what kinds of firms use these and what impact these incentives have on a firm’s sustainability performance. She came to the PhD program with over ten years of work and teaching experience in accounting and finance.

This blog post first appeared on Concordia's Public Scholars website at https://www.concordia.ca/cunews/offices/vprgs/sgs/public-scholars/2017/06/13/leanne-keddie-sustainability-blog.html.

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