Sustainability Un-packed

Across almost every industry imaginable the term sustainability is used to provide a sense of achievement or confirmation that a person, company, or industry is doing their part to be more environmentally friendly. A term that has a long history, and an evolution of use, it became a true environmental ‘buzzword’ in the early 2000’s and continues to be increasingly claimed, used, and discussed in all sectors. Unfortunately, more than not, the use of the word sustainable is used to represent a fraction of what the term truly encompasses. Yes, implementing a recycling program at a business or household does help - this is the key word - promote sustainable waste management, but it does not make a business or household sustainable. Obviously this is oversimplifying it and is only one example, but, it is all-too common that this word is becoming more of a marketing tool rather than a critical term to help improve how we humans understand, interact, and affect the world we live in.

What makes me want to bring this up, is to ensure that the reader is, at the very least, aware that not all individuals, businesses, or industries using the word sustainable / sustainability, are using it to its full meaning. This is not to say that this term should not be used. This does not mean that everyone is green-washing this term. But, it does mean that you need to be careful when seeing how it is used and to look at this critically. I believe that the critical aspect of sustainability is a key aspect, or even concept embedded within the term.


Sustainability is a complex word that needs to be used and understood from a critical perspective. At its core, sustainability highlights the importance of looking at how an action will effect the future. Further, sustainability promotes the need for continual improvement which holds a standard of constantly re-evaluating models, impacts, concerns, etc., in order to properly grow and understand. The common focus of the term is around environmental sustainability, however within this, social and economic components need to be understood and examined. A three - pillar approach to sustainability should always be the goal.

Understanding how a variety of socio-economic and environmental aspects of a situation connect is vital to this. For example, looking at the socio-economic links in the tourism industry emphasizes that a tourist operation or hotel operation is embedding themselves within the local economy and hiring / giving job opportunities, appropriate pay and healthy work environments to the locals. Another example is a similar establishment purchasing local food products for their kitchens rather than shipping foods in from other sources.

Sustainability is about empowerment, stewardship, and achieving a higher quality product and experience socially, economically, and environmentally. Again, this is a very rudimentary post on the issues of the term sustainability, its use, and its prevalence to being green-washed, however its intent is to highlight the importance of knowing source, knowing more about the company using these terms and taking a critical look at the use of the word 'sustainable’ and its application.