By: Sandra Pedro, CMMP — Editor-in-Chief
A new era is rising with sustainability. It is driven by societies that are facing the pressure of increasing pollution, food insecurity, growing populations and urban pressures. Sustainability is a holistic concept impacting human, economic and environmental realms. However, many still misunderstand this concept which makes it difficult to know where to start.
Increasing consciousness from consumers about what happens at their doors and how it affects other parts of the world is leading to new consumption habits and healthier lifestyles. Sustainability initiatives are more aggressive and now expected by consumers, NGOs, media, and also by governments and corporations who are starting to embrace the growing crusade of sustainability.
Those companies that better understand what sustainability means and how they can benefit from their forces of change for a common good, will (and many already do) have consumer loyalty and increasing revenues. Reaching this point does not happen overnight. It takes time, strategy and commitment from all levels (top to bottom, internal and external stakeholders).
A recent Nielsen survey shows that 81% of global respondents “feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment”. This sentiment is shared across gender lines and generations, which reveals how corporate sustainability is highly demanded by the global population.
Consumers from emerging markets (Asia and Latin America) are those searching for better solutions and are more demanding of businesses, since most of them deal with rapid urbanization and environmental hazards, such as massive plastic pollution, limited sanitation and access to clean water and environmental disasters.
Pollution related diseases responsible for over 12 million deaths annually
This is no joke. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 12.6 million people die from environmental health risks annually, and that environmental factors in developing countries carry roughly 23% of the disease burden. Air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation are the main factors for poor health and increasing environment-related diseases.
WHO emphasizes cost-effective measures that countries can take to reverse the upward trend of environment-related disease and deaths. These include reducing the use of solid fuels for cooking and increasing access to low-carbon energy technologies. However, this is not the only solution. The UN World Water Assessment Programme estimates that 80% of global wastewater is untreated.
The Brazilian city of Curitiba, in Paraná State, is an example of how implementing cost-effective measures can improve people’s lives living in large cities. The city invested heavily in slum upgrading, waste recycling and a popular “bus rapid transit” system, which is integrated with green spaces and pedestrian walkways to encourage walking and cycling. Despite the population increasing over the past 50 years, air pollution levels are comparatively lower than in many other rapidly growing cities and life expectancy is two years longer than the national average.
Industrial agriculture and single-use plastics are the two of the highest pollutants driving consumer sustainability trends. The growing zero waste movement, vegan movement, organic food, and many others are examples of how global citizens are becoming more aware of the extent that pollutants, such as livestock waste, pesticides and nitrates, antibiotics and single use plastics are contaminating their water sources and how it impacts their health from direct and indirect sources.
Global growing pressure for companies and governments
Governments are waking up to the impacts of environmental pollution, urban pressure versus food insecurity. Our planet is moving at a fast pace and consumers, as global citizens, are more aware of how consumption habits can impact the environment and are moving much faster in the direction towards sustainability.
A growing number of countries are implementing bans and taxes. While they may prove effective in reducing waste, it also impacts businesses, such as the packaging industry, which pass on the additional costs from taxes and investment in packaging to consumers.
One thing is for sur, governments and corporations need to work together and faster for a more sustainable world. Small businesses are more flexible and large companies benefit from increased research and budgets for alternative solutions. Thankfully, technology and scientific advancements are enabling companies to better manage their outputs and design sustainable buildings, farms and products, cheaper and faster.
Besides, sustainable companies will grow in influence. Companies that take on sustainability challenges and win will yield more influence than ever. Consumers will reward brands that keep them, their families and the world safer. Governments will recognize corporations that are driving major change and improving the lives of their constituents.
Sooner or later those governments and companies that haven’t yet connected to sustainability will need to respond fast to take action. Focusing on positive solutions and examples will allow us to move forward at a faster pace. Only by working together is it possible to reach the common good.