The Unfolding Sustainability Generation 

Ecology Prime is pleased to share the exceptional work and unique perspective of five bright minds from the Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University, Sustainable Enterprise course, of Fall 2021. Individually, the points of view shared by these independent thinkers, are timely and unique. Collectively, these voices beckon to a broader generational shift that has been underway, and which is becoming more inclusive, diverse, and focused on a shared pursuit of a more sustainable future.

Mark Coleman, adjunct instructor of Sustainable Enterprise and an award-winning author of three books on sustainability, introduced a class of 29 students to Sustainable Enterprise. The course’s content, purpose, and learning objectives are focused on providing the tools, methods, and understanding of how systemic changes influence business and entrepreneurs and consequentially, how business and entrepreneurs address the needs of society and create new paradigms through sustainable value. The course is part of a broader curriculum which prepares students to engage in transdisciplinary collaboration to develop sustainable solutions to complex organizational challenges. The essays and video presented here over the next weeks were submitted as the Sustainable Enterprise course’s final projects.

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Is That Coffee of Yours Really Rainforest Safe?

By Joe Ritchie

Photo by Rodolfo Quirós via Pexels

To be or not to be? That is the question. No this is not a Shakespearian play or analysis, but a look at how companies, small businesses, and corporations are dealing with the ever-growing question of what is sustainability. What is sustainability? Does this mean that a company has to become successful through any means possible? Or, does it simply mean a profitable business? Or, does it mean that a company’s practices have to be cognizant of the environment that they interact with, and that they should analyze what they do if it will have any social, economic pressures on a particular area? These are all burning questions that companies from Starbucks to your local car dealer are looking at.

Consumers are starting to become more and more aware of the environmental impacts their everyday products are having on the planet. Year after year organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) release damming data detailing the warming humans have caused, and other information such as 3 million people a year are dying because of air pollution. This is because of the blind eye many international corporations have taken in the past 2 centuries.

Luckily for the business sector, there is a framework in which they can accomplish all of these goals of making money, being conscious of what your product does to the planet, and looking at social factors. In the 1990s a British economist, John Elkington coined the phrase of the triple bottom line (TBL), and it has set the framework for sustainable venturing ever since. We can think of this phrase as respecting the three Ps: People, Planet, and Profit. TBL is not a framework but a complete change in how we should look at the capitalistic system. Gone are the days in which we can only look at the way we make money.

The sustainable market is projected to make around twelve trillion dollars by 2030. This is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs to enter and to make everyday business conscious of the people they interact with, how they make their profits, and the impact their company will have on the planet. When we come back to the original question of what is sustainability, many companies have successfully exploited the average consumer’s ignorance on what makes a company sustainable. Many people including myself at one point, thought that buying a bag of coffee beans that stated “rainforest safe” was a good thing. More importantly, it gives the consumer an illusion that our purchase is making a difference in the fight against climate change.

When a product’s name is something to the effect of “clean coal” or “green mining” that it would mean that they must be a sustainable company right? Well, no. Instead, companies such as ExxonMobile use the tactic of greenwashing to sell more of their product to a sector of people that would not normally buy their product if it had not been for greenwashing tactics. Greenwashing is the practice of making a “dirty” product such as coal, gas, plastic, etc., seem clean to the consumer with misleading labels or even colors like green to make the product seem natural or environmentally safe. It is important for the consumer to be educated on what might be greenwashing in order to stop these predatory practices.

When buying your coffee at Starbucks, Dunkin, or any of the other national coffee chains many times there is a label that your coffee was sustainability produced and that it is benefitting the local economies of Central and South America. However, when you dig deeper into where your coffee might come from, you may be shocked to see that many of the local farms in these impoverished areas use child labor to get you your morning coffee. Many times these bags of coffee beans are 30-50 pounds and can cause development issues for children as young as 5 years old. How can this be a sustainable practice when the locals who are providing us with coffee are living in extreme poverty, even when making some money? It is critical for the consumer to be aware of malpractices such as these.

Now, many governmental agencies are cracking down on the practices of greenwashing because they are often misleading or downright lying about their claims. What I find sometimes to be a bit repulsive is when major polluters get “environmental excellence awards”. Many times these are awarded by fake organizations only created to legitimize the dirty practices of the industry. At the end of the day, the consumer really should do their due diligence on a company’s green credentials and should only really focus on B Corporations (entities awarded and recognized for their outstanding commitment to sustainability.

The next decade will be a critical time for the sustainability market. As more and more Gen X and Zers become financially independent, they will want to move from their parents’ often unsustainable practices and move to a sustainable way of living. With the sustainability market expected to increase in the ten trillion-plus range, this speaks volumes as to who will be dominating future markets to come.

Sustainability is not a good business practice but a way of life. Our planet cannot afford any more mistakes in our goals to limit our warming to as low as we can. Companies will have to start to enact more green policies or they could see an increasing requirement from governments, in many cases, we are already seeing this, especially in states such as New York and California. More and more firms will require an ESG consultant to be on the payroll because of how much these values mean to the consumer. Large corporations have the responsibility of doing the right thing or else they will be forced to do it. A modern-day example can be compared to COVID-19 vaccinations, there was a time where we could have gotten 90 percent or more of people vaccinated and we might have been able to stop variants from destroying our everyday lives, but many people chose not to for selfish reasons. Instead of protecting the greater good of humanity, they put others at risk. This is why we are seeing more and more vaccine mandates as the months progress. The same thing will happen to companies that choose not to do the right thing, and the ever-floating hand of the government will make them act. To be or not to be sustainable, that is the question!

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Joe Ritchie

My name is Joe Ritchie a Senior at Syracuse University studying Environmental Sustainability and Policy and Political Science. I am also a community advocate in the Capital Region of New York for clean air and just environmental policies for all residents. My nonprofit, Saratoga Sites Against Norlite Emissions, successfully lobbied for the passage of New York’s first bill handling PFAS incineration, by barring it from happening in the state. I serve as executive director for this organization.

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