Guest Blog – Amy – Wasted World UK

What is sustainability?

With more and more people becoming aware of how they are affecting the planet, brands are under pressure to prove that they are taking sustainability seriously.

But what does sustainability actually mean?

Many people believe it is just about helping the environment. Although the environment is a huge part of it, there are a lot of other factors that come into play.

Here I will guide you through the three ‘pillars’ of sustainability to help you understand what makes a product sustainable and why it’s important.

First of all, what is the definition of sustainable?

Definition: “Products causing little or no damage to the environment so that natural resources are still available in the future.”

This means that for us to live sustainably, we need to be able to meet our needs now, without damaging the needs of the next generation. For example, if we were to keep polluting fields so that they couldn’t grow any crops in the future, this would not be sustainable.

There are three pillars that are used to help us understand sustainability: planetpeople and profit. Each pillar is just as important as the other.

1. Planet

The first pillar of sustainability is the planet. This means that when a product is made, it should impact the planet as little as possible. This includes everything from how it’s produced through to packaging it’s sold in.

For example, the production process should limit the amount of carbon dioxide that is released.

The recyclability of a product is also important. The materials used should have the ability to be recycled endlessly. This helps to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfill and contributes to a circular economy (see graphic below).

As well as this, the way the materials break down is also part of the environmental pillar. Man-made materials can often take hundreds of years to biodegrade. During this process, harmful toxic gasses are released into the environment.

Whereas, products made from natural materials can easily break down without causing damage to the soil or air that we breathe.

Things to look out for:

  • Biodegradable packaging – no plastic
  • Recycling symbol
  • That the product is made from a natural material such as wood or bamboo
  • Certifications such as FSC approved
  • An ISO 14001 certification – the standard which shows the company’s commitment to protecting the environment
  • B-Corp certification which measures a company’s social and environmental performance

2. People

Our second pillar is people. The way the product is made has a huge impact on whether it is sustainable. The people that make the products should be working in a safe environment where they are paid a fair wage. It’s also important that they are treated fairly and that their basic human needs are being met.

Sustainable companies should be looking out for the welfare of their workers. For example, giving them access to training can make the workforce happier and more productive overall.

As well as this, it’s also great to shop locally. Not only are you supporting small business owners, but you are helping the local economy and your community.

Things to look out for:

  • The Fairtrade approved logo
  • Credible reviews from staff and customers
  • Small independent retailers

3. Profit

Finally, profit. Economic sustainability means that the company makes a profit without impacting the other two pillars. These businesses ensure that they use their resources efficiently and responsibly. This also helps maintain their work long-term and reduces the amount of waste they produce.

The great thing about sustainability is that when businesses make a conscious effort to focus on their social and environmental impact, profitability often follows. If they have strong social values and are doing great things to help the planet, workers and customers are more likely to stick around.

Things to look out for:

  • Good quality sustainable products are often slightly more expensive (up to about 10% more) than their non-eco-friendly alternatives so be aware of this when purchasing
  • Clear messages that back up their claims for being sustainable

Amy Bates is the author of Wasted World, a blog giving tips and advice on how to reduce your waste by switching to more eco-friendly products. Amy is dedicated to helping the environment and inspiring others to do the same. Follow Wasted World on Instagram @wastedworlduk.