When Sustainability Becomes a Mere Buzzword

By JAMIE HENDERSON

Sustainability. It’s on everyone’s lips. From the UN Sustainable Development Goals to the new campus ASC and UCSA board members. But what is it really, and why is it gaining such traction?

Sustainability is this generation’s unquestioned narrative. It is seen as the Truth with a capital T, and it is seen as the future.

Now, this is not an article where I look into scientific evidence, whether it holds or not. Knowledge production will always be a reflection of societal needs and therefore, scientific knowledge production is also far from independent from society. There will always be evidence for and against climate change.

What I want to speak about is how the idea of sustainability is taken for granted. It seems every serious institution or company is moving towards a ‘green’ focus, whatever that means. I want to question the actual intention of these companies and institutions.

‘Greenwashing’, where different actors portray themselves as ‘greener’ and more sustainable than they actually are, is a serious problem. The actual meaning of sustainability has been lost along the way. Sustainability has become more of a trend than an actual meaningful engagement.

When companies and institutions spend money on seeming like they are sustainable instead of actually being sustainable, there is a clear discrepancy in their intentions. Sure, it might be good that they are actually doing something, but in the end it’s for the ‘wrong’ reasons. If one engages without fully committing I doubt that there will be serious change within these companies and institutions.

However, there is also the other side of the coin, which demonstrates exactly how widespread this trend of sustainability is. Several luxury clothes brands, such as Louis Vuitton, have approached the European Commission asking for help to become more sustainable, without trying to advertise it to sell more goods. These companies are fantastic at PR so they realise that their target customers are not interested in buying sustainable goods, but for them it’s more about status and a certain type of luxury good.

So there are many layers to this complex issue. What I can conclude is that we should not take this trend for granted. We should not assume full throttle that sustainability and ‘green’ things are ultimately better. Usually they are, but I would argue this is the case when the intentions are genuine and the investigation is thorough.

Maybe it’s better that sustainability is becoming a trend, maybe it’s good that despite intentions, people, companies and institutions are spending more time and money focus on trying to reuse, renewables and so on. But will this solve the issues we are facing?

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