Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Living in the World We Live in Today?
by Reese Fernandez-Ruiz on Feb 23, 2019
As someone working in the social entrepreneurship and development sector for 11 years now, I have encountered all kinds of difficult questions. See, trying to do good may seem easy from the outside, but it is a lot more complicated now than ever before. A few examples of difficult questions or concepts to reconcile:
- Can “shopping” and “sustainability” really come together? Aren’t they contradictory?
- Will using metal straws really make a difference or are we just trying to feel good about ourselves without being more responsible?
- Can a company really claim to be more sustainable when they are still using plastic in some ways?
- Should we really build solutions to social problems or just hold the government more accountable for the people? Because we can only do so much. The change must be systemic!
The questions go on and on, and as you go deeper, it gets harder. And I have heard them all (well, almost all). What I have realized for the past 11 years of working in this industry is that there really are no easy answers. For the really hard questions above, here are some of the answers that I was able to realize throughout the years:
1. Can “shopping” and “sustainability” really come together? Aren’t they contradictory?
If the situation of the world is an ideal one, consumption as we know it now should not exist. But the reality is, we are a world filled with people from different backgrounds and beliefs, with different sets of priorities. Often, those who care so much for the world tend to still shop but just less, and those who don’t care so much, tend to shop more. So if consumerism is not something we can stop altogether, what can we do? (And I ask this because I like focusing on things we can control rather than those we cannot.)
We can shine the light on more sustainable alternatives! We can encourage small businesses that are trying to do good, through choosing their products and services. We may not be able to stop shopping as a whole, but we can make every shopping decision lead to a more sustainable lifestyle for us and hopefully a more sustainable world.
2. Will using metal straws really make a difference or are we just trying to feel good about ourselves without being more responsible?
Short answer: Yes, it makes a difference not just because it takes away a few more single-use plastic straws away from our oceans, but also because of your commitment and lifestyle change.
Long answer: We should never belittle anyone who wants to make a change, no matter how small. Every small decision counts because a lot of big changes start with small decisions done consistently over time.
At the same time, we also have to admit that the problems are much bigger and yes, we definitely have to be part of the bigger movement to clean up after ourselves, hold big companies and industries accountable for their waste, and even shape legislation that could make a bigger difference on the environment.
But why can’t we do both? Why can’t we make small changes in our own lifestyles while trying to do more?
3. Can a company really claim to be more sustainable when they are still using plastic in some ways?
This is a tricky one. On one hand, “sustainability” is a sexy word that is now being thrown around without much responsibility. So it is understandable that we may have some trust issues when it comes to believing companies, especially big ones when they say that they are doing some things in a more sustainable way. I have seen a lot of greenwashing for the past decade and more, but at the same time, I have also seen a lot of companies that were able to really decrease their environmental impact and create better jobs and opportunities for others.
What we have realized is this: Becoming more sustainable is a journey. It may take a while and there are many factors and interests surrounding it that moves it faster or slower. My answer to this question depends on the company. I do my research, I ask questions, and I continue being vigilant.
But I never antagonize companies even if they may not yet be reaching the right standards. Any start is an opening to engage. I appreciate companies who put themselves out there, claim that they will be creating more sustainable practices, and create small but consistent decisions towards their goals. I would be more critical of those who are not putting themselves out there or not creating any efforts at all.
4. Should we really build solutions to social problems or just hold the government more accountable for the people? Because we can only do so much. The change must be systemic!
Again, why can’t we do both? There are many social problems that pop up faster than policies can be written and passed. Entrepreneurs who are on the ground could see these popping up and if they can create solutions, why not try? Besides, many laws and legislation are influenced and inspired by the private sector.
I believe what is important is to not work in silos or in isolation. When we build solutions to social problems, we should also engage others, including the government, so we can find bigger solutions together.
Whew! These are just a few of the most difficult questions I have ever encountered. Naming more and trying to answer more will take you a few weeks to read! I don’t want you to go through that kind of stress! And honestly, while there are many hard questions on sustainability and sustainable living, there is so much more to be done. As we try to answer the hard questions, we also can't just keep asking or answering without acting on them.
So here we are, acting on them and still acting on them, 11 years and counting through Rags2Riches and Things That Matter.
As you are one of our advocates and inspirations, we would love to know: Do you have these kinds of difficult questions about social impact and sustainability? Have you been asked these questions, too? What are your answers? You can comment them below. You can also share them online by tagging us or using the hashtag #thingsthatmatterph so we can find them!