Sustainable products

Calling products sustainable shows we don’t understand what sustainable means.

The idea behind so-called sustainable products is that they are produced, distributed, used and disposed of in a way that is environmentally-friendly, healthy, equitable and socially responsible.

Unfortunately, while this is all extremely important, there is no guarantee that doing so will get us any closer to sustainability.

The main point is that sustainability is about the entire system, not its individual parts. It’s either everything or nothing.

Sustainability is defined as our ability to meet all needs of everybody, now and in the future. It does not refer to just some needs of some people at some point in time.

What this means is that there cannot be some products that are sustainable and other products that aren’t sustainable. We can either have sustainability and then all products are sustainable, or we don’t have sustainability and then no products are sustainable.

Therefore, referring to products as sustainable is a non-sense.

Example

Imagine a local company which prides itself in offering a beautiful line of “sustainable furniture.” They control every aspect of the production process. They even bought their own land to grow timber on and take a great pride in harvesting only as much as will regrow each season.

This must be sustainable, right? Not so fast…

What if I told you that, as a result of the company buying up land and planting trees, the size of land available for food production in the are is now smaller by a third? Obviously, this is not of concern to the furniture company, but somebody somewhere else now needs to produce that missing food.

But, even if the furniture company bought a previously unfarmable land and spent a great deal to re-cultivate it in order to grow a forest on, we still couldn’t call their product sustainable.

Not until we are able to meet the needs of everybody in the world and ensure that what we leave for future generations is at least as good or better.