Sustainability: More Than a Fad
(**The following article is by Chenyu Zheng, found in The Daily Princetonian. Click here to see the original article.**)
We hear this S-word almost as often as the other S-word. From President Barack Obama, to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, to Bill McDermott, the co-chief executive of SAP, everyone seems to be talking about it. What is sustainability? The term is often too broad to mean anything and needs to be clearly defined.
Is sustainability becoming a fad, like the vague “all natural” label on your cereal box? As someone who enjoys reading green news, I felt a bit disappointed by the fact that this honest term was turning into a public relations buzzword.
However, a workshop earlier this month by Richard Locke, a political science and management professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has restored my faith in sustainability. From the very beginning of his talk, Locke was informative. He defined global sustainability as “the preservation and stewardship of natural and human social resources today so that many future generations can have enough resources.” He emphasized human social resources in addition to the natural resources that are traditionally associated with sustainability. Sustainability is not just about climate change, environmental protection, energy crises and water shortages, nor is it just about labor standards. All the above issues are related, and sustainability encompasses them all. Only if we take a holistic view and try to link the issues together can our society become more sustainable and our economy more dynamic.
In tough economic times, concern for sustainability makes good sense, as companies try to produce more at lower costs. Companies have had to redesign supply chains and distribution systems and have had to use resources in a more sustainable way. These priorities are gradually being absorbed into some companies’ culture as we begin to make our way out of the recession. But is sustainability simply a fad that’s catching on recently? I used to think so. However, according to Locke, sustainability is an ongoing concern for any company.
I guess being an economics major doesn’t just mean getting lost in the biggest department here. It trains us to always refer back to the cost-benefit model when we have a problem. Sustainability is no exception. Nike has recently released a completely green shoe model, Air Jordan 23, which is made from recycled materials. This model is not just for tree huggers, it’s one of their core models. This green shoe became a huge success, and Michael Jordan has asked Nike to expand the company’s use of recycled materials to more designs.
In this case, Nike did not design its green model for the sake of being more environmentally friendly, but because it was economically viable and cost-efficient. Many other companies are also designing green products. On a similar note, Nestle has started a farming initiative to train farmers in developing countries in organic farming and agriculture. The company did not do so to follow the fad, but because it is the best way for it to make sure that it has a stable supply for a long time. Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: They are not the same tree-hugging neighbors that you spot on the street. At the end of the day, they are businessmen who do what gives them the most profit. But following sustainable norms seems to be providing this profit.
At Princeton, our campus does a lot for sustainability, not because it’s a fad, but because it saves money. According to Shana Weber, director of the Office of Sustainability, and Ted Borer, manager of the cogeneration plant, real-time pricing — when the price of electricity varies during the day based on demand — saves the power plant more than $700,000 per year. Dual-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads and new dishwashers in total save 300,000 gallons of water every year. Foaming soap uses 30 percent less water and soap. In addition, 52 percent of Dining Services purchases are local, which is the best rate among top schools.
We are saving money by being conscientious about the environment. We all want to be trendsetters, but sustainability is not a fad. It’s an ongoing commitment that everyone should participate in. Just as Obama said two weeks ago, “We’re going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it’s good for our national security, and, ultimately, it’s good for our environment.”