The Unfolding Sustainability Generation
Ecology Prime is pleased to share the exceptional work and unique perspective of seven bright minds from the Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University, Sustainable Enterprise course, of Fall 2020. 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.
Why our vision could be flawed and what we do to fix it?
By Zachary Fredendall
There is much discussion around the idea of “Sustainable Enterprise” and what it means in the context of the global market. It is imperative that we act on this message and try to create businesses that not only are good for the economy, but also for society and the environment. Today, I will discuss the issues surrounding “sustainable enterprise” and show that not all green companies are what they seem. Additionally, I will provide my personal vision for what I believe could be a sustainable system. Lastly, I will discuss the issues with my vision and what we can do in order to come as close to the vision as possible.
We are looming dangerously close to a point where society as we know it, could come to an end. We have seen the fragility of the human race and economy especially during the COVID 19 pandemic. My viewpoint and vision for sustainable enterprise is that we are not doing nearly enough. Companies promoting “sustainability” and eco friendly materials, often are still producing too much for the environment to handle and we support these because we feel like what they are doing is enough to curb climate change. The reality of it is that even the best companies are privy to the degradation of the environment.
A company in which I believe is doing everything necessary to be a sustainable enterprise is Patagonia. This company operates under the idea of fair and equitable practices in their supply chain, and also getting their high-quality products to the consumers. What I believe is the biggest problem today is waste. Waste in the supply chain, waste in the production, and specifically waste from the consumers. Patagonia not only provides their suppliers with fair deals, but their production of their products also is a low-cost operation. Most importantly, the consumers who use their products are also empowered to consume less because of Patagonia’s vision for less consumption in the clothing industry. They empower consumers to use less by giving them options to return, repair, exchange, and even fix their clothing at home! This kind of waste reduction is not seen in the majority of companies that operate as “sustainable enterprises”.
For me, the solution for an ideal future rests heavily on the consumers. Because the consumers do not have as much power as one might think, I feel that it is the responsibility of the companies that we put our trust in, to provide the consumers with avenues for reducing their consumption and waste. According to the EPA, the average American consumer uses around 4.9 pounds of trash per day. (EPA, 2018). This number doesn’t sound like much, but multiplied for a year, and accounting for the 300 million Americans who live here, yearly, US consumers produce over 536 billion pounds per year.
Too often, I find that so many companies are trying to provide a solution to this, by creating more products, which further pulls us down the rabbit hole. Companies like Starbucks seem to be the one of the most destructive companies. While still having the disguise of a socially equitable company, they are a contributor to a huge portion of the waste in the United States and Globally. According to Clean Water Action, Starbucks produces over 8,000 cups per minute, adding to a staggering four billion per year. These cups, even though they are made from paper, are lined with plastic and are very rarely accepted to be recycled.
Additionally, there is a common myth that green products are always good for the environment because they decrease consumption. Companies often talk about their services to the environment, but it is actually to the contrary. Green products actually increase consumption. When buying a car, a consumer could choose to purchase a hybrid, but for many, when the new version of it comes out, they buy that one and replace the old car. Not only is this a net loss for the environment, but in many cases, aids in the overfilling of our landfills.
WHAT IS THE VISION?
Discussing the flaws surrounding sustainable enterprise does no good unless there is a clear vision for what the future can hold. I see a future in which corporations are held accountable for their actions. Every company has a laundry list of activities that is necessary to produce their products or services. Involved in these are raw material acquisition, transportation, labor, and many other aspects of the business that produces either carbon dioxide of waste. If companies are held accountable and pay for their TRUE cost of production, it is a step in the right direction.
This is a step, not only for the companies, but for consumers as well. Now that businesses must pay for their true cost of production, consumers will be more careful with their consumption. They will opt to consume less because the companies are forced to price their items at a level that is equal to the environmental degradation the production causes.
This is an extremely unlikely outcome mainly because of the bureaucracy and immovability of the market. Not only is it impossible to entice companies to pay more for their production, but to do this for every company, would have to be an organized effort from the majority of the United States. Thankfully, there seems to be a governmental movement towards more equitable businesses.
Not only would the companies have to be satisfied, but the consumers would have to be taken care of as well. Consumers would have to change their entire view of what it means to be a buyer. They would have to agree to lessening consumption and in an Individualist country like America, that is a long shot. Americans are notoriously selfish and the majority of them would probably resist the change.
Another challenge that many would face is not being able to afford products that they once were able to. It is important to understand and take care of the ones who may be left behind if the true cost of the products must be paid. There must be intervention from a progressive government in order to subsidize necessary goods and make sure that nobody is left behind in getting the essential living expenses.
Despite these challenges, I feel like there is a necessity for even a watered-down version of this plan. We as a nation and as a globe have to realize the harm we are doing and make the choices that will help sustainable enterprises be truly green. This starts with lessening our consumption along with holding our businesses and corporations accountable for the damage that they are inflicting on our world.
I’m a senior studying Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises with a minor in Environment and Society. I am an avid outdoorsman (as much as a college student can be) and I love everything about nature and the environment. I find my peace and focus from activities such as climbing, backpacking, camping, and skiing.
References and Sources
Environmental Protection Agency. (2020b, November 12). National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling. US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials
Feature Image Photo Credits
Students from Left to Right:
Jared Simon, Madison Covino, Zachary Fredendall, Stephanie Pearson, Joshua Simoncic, Camryn Lawyea, Josh Katowitz
Buckminster Fuller – Montreal Biosphere, 1967 – Photo by Cédric ThévenetCC Wikimedia Commons
Disposable cups – Photo by Ann H. – CC Pexels
Box of face masks – Photo by Ivan Samkov – CC Pexels
Rainbow – Public Domain Pictures CC
Plastic bottles – Photo by Magda Ehlers – CC Pexels
Girl with facemask – Photo by Maksim Goncharenok CC Pexels
Path with girl – Photo by Vlad Bagacian – CC Pexels
Ocean pollution – Photo by Artem Beliaikin – Pexels
Buckminster Fuller – Montreal Biosphere, 1967 – Photo by Cédric Thévenet CC Wikimedia Commons
Disposable cups – Photo by Ann H. – CC Pexels