Yes, finally it’s the time for everyone to claim “sustainability” as their new mantra, new passion, or in many cases, just their latest marketing campaign. “Surely not“, I hear you say, “doesn’t sustainability have to be real, certified, audited or something to prove the claimant isn’t just giving us a load of hot air?” (or increased carbon emissions as we eco-folk like to call them.). Well, actually… no. 

Now this started some years ago in the real estate business with the launch of the ‘Green Forest Residences’ and ‘Eco Tower Apartments’ and other such total marketing scams, with the developers dedicating 5% of their area to nature and 95% to concrete. But now it has moved on to the real realm of sustainability, where the science can be blurred but the claims are more important than ever in the eyes of a more informed consumer.

First let’s establish what sustainability really is – and there are a lot of definitions – but the one which makes most sense to them is one which is based on the ‘balance of life’ not just the ‘balance of nature’, which most people associate with the concept. Sustainability is not just about reducing your net consumption of water to zero, or having a neutral carbon footprint (i.e. no emissions at all), or achieving zero-waste-to-landfill, although all of them are worthy targets. To be truly sustainable we need to ensure our employees – and their families – are in good health, good housing and good spirits, and that our suppliers – and customers – are happy and themselves sustainable. There has to be a whole ‘social’ element as well. Wow, what a challenge!

Now to get there every organisation has to learn, understand and follow very specific rules and procedures, all of which are – and have to be – achievable. So if you have been dumping untreated waste into a river, it’s time to stop and invest in the correct treatment plant; if you have been sending all your garbage to the local dump (“its run by the government so it’s okay”) you have to stop, segregate, clean and engage a professional recycling partner, etc, etc. It’s all achievable and in the end, actually saves money! Amazingly reducing your energy bill and your water consumption does save money – and lots of it.

So why isn’t everyone doing it? Frankly, I don’t know. There is no-one on the planet who doesn’t want to have cleaner air, cleaner water and garbage free landscapes, but many people still think “that’s someone else’s responsibility”. But it’s not. It’s ours. 

But increasingly those very same people want to stick an ‘eco-label’ on their products and services, but don’t want to go through the discipline of actually getting correctly advised, adjusted and certified. 

Now this isn’t actually always helped by the government who despite many warnings have failed to create the infrastructure and organisation to make the private sector’s job easier and in many areas it is their responsibility.

As far as I know there is not one single city in Indonesia with a comprehensive waste segregation, collection and recycling system in place. This means that the private sector has to pay third parties to achieve their aims and the government for a service they do not use. Unfair and totally against the principles that we as a country signed on to achieve at COP26. And we need them to make that investment, and many others. Likewise, the seemingly intractable resistance of the state electricity company, PLN, to allow and encourage the private sector to convert to solar, is contrary to all the stated objectives. My suspicion is that there is a very strong coal lobby behind this, but how can we find out? 

But despite all these difficulties and challenges we need to simply do the best we can as organisations dedicated to improving life and lives within our area of influence. And this probably requires professional help and guidance: perhaps recruiting a trained environmental expert for your staff, or finding a practical sustainability consultant who can guide your team on this journey – without charging an arm and a leg for unfathomable consulting  procedures! But whatever you decide to do, you need to make a conscious decision to do it and start the process now, or honestly you will be left behind. 

But in the meantime, don’t pretend to be well down the path to sustainability if you aren’t, let us be honest. It’s okay to have started a plan and have a 5 years program mapped out, everyone will understand. In the meantime, please don’t claim your products are biodegradable, or environmentally friendly, or eco-labelled if they are not. This is what confuses the consumer, annoys the regulations and seriously frustrates the companies who have actually invested in improving their production processes and services, and are now fighting an unfair battle against lower cost-but lying-competitors.

So to all of you eco-conscious fans out there, take a moment to check what your favourite brands are really doing: do they still make single-use plastic products? Are they buying FSC certified paper and wood products? Do they believe in local products and where possible local employees? Look at every aspect before you purchase.

It’s important now for the consumer to be more conscious, more savvy, more careful, and be prepared to pay for the best not the cheapest. Is this you? 

Alistair Speirs

Alistair Speirs

Alistair has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for 25 years. He started NOW! Magazines as the region’s preferred community magazine.