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Sustainability is a journey that consists of a bold series of steps that are built on change management, innovation and responsible leadership. It is not something that just happens overnight, but rather a process that all organisations and individuals must undertake.
A few years ago, I was taking out my rubbish for collection and decided to have a look at what I was throwing away. Before that moment I had always considered waste as something that I just left out on the street for collection. Something that was not my problem.
I noticed that I was consuming products that came with large amounts of waste either as packaging, or as a result of the product itself. Much of my waste could be separated for recycling, and some of it could go into my garden as compost.
My first question was where could I take my recyclable waste? After a quick search on the Internet, I found a local recycling depot and learnt how to separate the different materials. I created a compost heap in my garden for my organic waste which had the added benefit of returning nutrients back to the soil.
When at the supermarket, I made a conscious decision to choose products that didn’t come with large amounts of waste. This involved choosing products with less packaging, or packaging that I knew could be recycled.
I also noticed that when I put my rubbish bags out on the street, a group of informal recyclers would sort through the rubbish, taking out items that they could sell to a recycler. One morning I sat outside on the curb and waited for them to arrive. I wanted to find out what they were looking for and how I could make it easier for them. The answer was so simple, they were collecting certain plastics and glass for recycling.
Soon after, as I sat in my garden admiring the flowers growing in the well-composted soil, I thought about how to reduce my electricity consumption. After installing a prepaid meter, I could measure how much electricity I was actually using, and also how much each appliance was using. Changing to energy efficient lighting and being conscious of leaving on lights in unoccupied rooms was a cost saving exercise. My fridge stopped working and after failed attempts to get it repaired, I decided to buy a new fridge. Naturally I purchased the most energy efficient fridge I could afford.
Through a process of examining my life in an open and honest way, I managed to reduce my impact which, in turn, reduced my living costs. This drive towards living a more sustainable life, started by learning about the impact of my actions and decisions, and finding out how the problems that I create could be better managed. As a consequence, I have maintained my lifestyle while reducing my impact and saving costs.
If I had to imagine a perfect situation, then I would be growing my own vegetables, generating my own electricity and harvesting rain water. I realise that sustainability is not a quick process, but rather a series of incremental stages towards a goal. The duration of each step differs according to the organisation’s or the individual’s values and beliefs. In the same way that I implemented changes to reduce my impact, organisations must undergo the same transformation.
Regardless of the type or size of an organisation, the pursuit of sustainability consists of the following steps, each with its own challenges and opportunities:
- Incremental Change.
The road to sustainability may appear to be a linear journey from one point to another. However, the goals of sustainability change over time. There will never be a time when an organisation becomes 100% sustainable, as there will always be opportunities to be taken advantage of.
The pursuit of sustainability is a never-ending cycle of continuous improvement. As sustainability goals are achieved, external forces may redefine what is achievable, which results in revised targets and goals.