On the hunt for the definition of ‘sustainability’

When doing our market research for earthikes, I came across the term ‘sustainable’ so often that I questioned whether the desire to develop a truly sustainable company was justified at all. It looked like with all those ‘sustainable’ companies already out there serving the trekking industry, the earthikes team could really just let them carry on and take a back seat on issues which mattered a lot to us. And surely, earthikes would just be another ‘sustainable’ company working on the grounds…wouldn’t it? How would the company stand out in an industry already swamped by all these supposed sustainability proponents?

However, I was quite intrigued and thought that it would be worth looking into. What do these companies mean by ‘we are sustainable’? Most of the times, it would be a statement, stuck on the website, with no links, examples, or further explanation to justify the use of the term. It seemed rather, to have been used as a way to justify why customers should use their services instead of another competitor’s… “Why use us? Because we are sustainable!” And how exactly are you sustainable? No answer. I will not state the number of emails sent with the question “could you please provide some information on your sustainable measures in place?” which were left without a reply…

To the customer or investor who is not really worried about sustainability, I guess that it does not really matter if companies use the term as a marketing adjective rather than to describe something concrete that they are doing to promote sustainability and sustainable development. But to people who do care, it can be misleading and while it is up to us to verify whom we are supporting and whether they are actively ‘walking the walk’, sometimes, when in a hurry, just seeing the word ‘sustainable’ might be enough for us to go, ‘great, we’ll go for that one,’ not realising that this same company might be supporting child labour, illegal logging of protected forests, or the economic downfall of small, local communities.

So…how do we know whom to support? Let’s briefly mention first a few things about sustainability… Wherever it is applied, sustainability integrates the following three aspects: Environmental (Built and Non-Built), Social and Economic. A truly sustainable project (company, business, venture etc.) would usually talk about a Triple Bottom Line, which means that its decision-making process would take into account the three aspects of sustainability as well as the economic viability of the business itself. There is a lot of reading material available on the subject, and you could study it in relation to different sectors. Being qualified in sustainable design and architecture, I needed to find a quick way to learn more about sustainable business…

Introducing…. B Corps! I have already written about the time I spend in the shops, assessing products and their sustainability credentials (refer to post Fancy a cuppa?), and that is exactly how I came across the B Corp movement. One of the products I purchased had a ‘B-Corp’ logo on its packaging…I was curious and off I went to investigate and lo and behold, I was whisked away in a world where people and companies actually cared and did not only talk the talk and did more than just walk the walk!

I attended one of their introductory talks last week and immediately felt like earthikes had found its family. While there are various ways to try and show that your business is doing good while being profitable, by reporting and getting independently audited etc. going through a B Corp certification process (and if you are excellent, achieving certification status), will help any business assess its current impacts on the environment and the community in its race for profit. B Corps offer so much advice and guidance on how ‘to be the best business ‘for’ the world’, and provide an alternative solution to the capitalist system, which truly works for those who want to bring a change in the business world and who are sincerely concerned about how their business is affecting various other industries (supply and consumer chains). In my opinion, it was THE definition of a sustainable and profitable business – the two terms which earthikes wanted to integrate and develop right from the start.

Earthikes is a start-up. It is small. But it is far from being insignificant. The team has already started implementing the B Corp certification requirements into the Business Plan and will seek certification after 12 months of operation. We might get it, we might not, but we will strive to achieve it. We will let you know how we get along. And rest assured that when we get there, we will not tell you that we are ‘sustainable’…we will flaunt it!

Davina @ earthikes

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