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How to “achieve” sustainability

Danny Ruspandini - Impact Labs Australia
Danny R.

A few days ago I talked about the definition of the word “sustainability”, which is sometimes used in weird ways in the green space. Semantics... but perhaps for the next 90 seconds or so, if we substitute that word sustainability with “zero impact”, this might make more sense.

So... how do we “achieve” zero impact? There’s a reason I put “achieve” in speech marks.

I don’t believe any person or organisation ever fully achieves absolutely zero impact - there’s almost no allowance for it.

I’d love to be proven wrong about this but from my view, at a minimum you’d need to:

  • Live off regenerative land
  • Have no possessions aside from what you can make
  • Never use services like hospitals, phones or bank accounts
  • Never visit anyone, unless they were walking distance and you didn’t damage any land on your way
  • Do that from birth til death

Everything generates a footprint, so “achieving” zero impact looks more like lots of people doing something towards minimising their impact, rather than a few people aiming for perfect zero (or worse, holding off til they think they can do it perfectly, in the meantime doing nothing).

What can you do inside of your organisation to minimise environmental impact?

There’s easy stuff like choosing recycled products, encouraging a paperless work environment or going plastic-free.

There’s stuff you can just buy, like carbon offset schemes, or choosing to purchase refurbished computers for your team instead of new ones.

There’s more proactive supply-chain stuff, like switching to enviro-conscious suppliers, or replacing international suppliers with local ones.

Either way, the hands-down best thing you can do is to just start.

...the very next best thing you can do is declare it publicly.

How? Simple really - add an “Impact” page to your website.

Talk about what you do already... or what you’d like to do eventually.

If you’ve already started sustainability initiatives, Impact pages can almost write themselves. Just list the stuff you’re already doing.

But if you’re not quite there yet, try writing about your future impact plans instead.

Example situation: You currently manufacture your products overseas, but would like to move to Australian shores within the next 5 years.

Just say that - something like:

Currently our products are manufactured in {this country}. We aim to have 25% of our products made in Australia within the next 2 years, increasing to 100% Australian made within 5 years.

Boom. Impact declared.

Declaring your future intent is great for a number of reasons.

  1. It helps potential customers in their selection process - you’re inviting them along on your journey towards your goal, and it shows them that you all value the same things. They’re more likely to want to help you reach that goal
  2. Going public keeps you (somewhat) accountable to your goals
  3. In 5 years time you get to say “In {this year} we committed to 100% Australian manufacturing within 5 years - and now we‘ve achieved it!”

Want an example of just how imperfect this can look?

To summarise

The “achieving” of sustainability happens in continuous increments. You may never fully achieve it - you just keep chipping away at it.

Going public with your journey is a huge achievement. Hit that first, and the wins will start racking up.

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