Sustainability is already changing how we live, consume, and do business—for the better. Discover how by clicking one of the options below.
As opposed to the non-renewable energy sources we rely on today like fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas), sustainable energy is renewable, replenishable, and clean. We’ve used these types of energy since the advent of humanity—wind energy to power our boats on expeditions across the sea, for example.
The fight against climate change has brought new ideas and technologies to capture and retain natural energy resources. Here are just a few:
- Solar Energy
- Biomass Energy
- Wind Energy
- Geothermal Energy
- Hydroelectric Power
- Tidal and Wave Energy
Smart grid technology
With more advanced technology came the smart grid, a way to connect a variety of distributed energy resource assets to the power grid and effectively manage and distribute them. Smart grids leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect data, which makes it possible to identify service issues and resolve them quickly.
Smart grid technology has bolstered renewable energy initiatives, in particular, because of how paramount data collection is to these types of initiatives. For example, wind farms use mechanical gears; each link of those gears supports multiple sensors. These sensors perceive climate and environmental conditions, send that information through the grid, and alert the utility of any issues, improving the quality of service and safety.
According to the UN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is defined as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.”
Sustainable tourism initiatives
Impact Travel Alliance
A global community and nonprofit organization, Impact Travel Alliance believes that travel can act as a catalyst to improve our world. By educating and empowering travelers with the knowledge necessary to have a positive impact on local communities and the environment, they are mobilizing travelers to understand, choose, and advocate for sustainable travel options.
Positive Travel was created out of a need for travelers to have reliable and easily accessible knowledge and tools about the environmental and social impact of travel. These types of resources make it possible for travelers to make more informed decisions and choices on how those travels are shaped, from the places they stay to the meals they eat, how they move, what they see, and what they do.
The importance of sustainable agriculture in the fight against climate change cannot be overstated. Sustainable agriculture is an integrated systematic approach to plant and animal production and distribution. This approach, while protecting the environment, also expands the earth’s natural resource base and makes the most efficient use of non-renewable resources.
Sustainable agriculture not only includes aquaculture and other ways to sustainably farm fish but also micro-farming in suburban or urban areas.
Many of the sustainable farming practices fly in the face of the industrial farming practices we’ve firmly established. But industrial farming has evolved to caring more about the bottom-line than the inefficiencies and waste produced along the way. Sustainable agriculture promotes practices like:
- Crop rotation, or planting a different crop on a particular piece of land, is a great way to prevent soil diseases, insect pests, weed problems, and for building healthy soils (and microbial diversity).
- Integrating livestock and crops results in a more productive, sustainable, climate-resistant, and economically competitive system than traditional cropping systems. Other benefits include a reduction in animal feed costs, labor, tillage, and machinery inputs.
- Natural and organic pest management, rather than relying on pesticides and other environmentally-damaging preventative measures.
Orlando, Fla.’s Fleet Farming is a non-profit created to combine lawn space with agricultural production, reduce carbon emissions, and improve the convenience of healthy, economic food consumption. They install “farmlettes” and edible landscapes, in addition to providing education throughout the Orlando area.
Tomorrow’s Farms, LLC
Don Wiviott has a tradition of environmental activism. He graduated from Dartmouth with a BA in environmental studies, he’s written solar legislation, and he’s even lobbied with the Farmers Union. His latest venture, Tomorrow’s Farms, LLC, partners with investors who manage or own 80,000 acres in organic farmland. He employs a financial model that includes a path to ownership for farmers—all while providing stable assets for investors and institutions committed to the growth, protection, and stewardship of organic farming.
Sustainable fashion is a term that includes products, activities, and the people involved in fashion (from consumers to policy makers to the brands themselves) aligning and aiming to achieve a carbon-neutral fashion industry that’s built on a foundation of equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity.
Most people don’t realize how harmful fashion is to the environment. Check out these statistics:
- Every second, one garbage truck of textile waste is either dumped at a landfill or burned.
- Fibers can take hundreds of years to decompose—and synthetics are worse (not designed to decompose), as they can leak toxic substances into groundwater and the surrounding soil.
- One t-shirt takes 700 gallons of water to make (factoring in growth, manufacturing, transport, and washing of cotton).
- Clothing and textiles are almost 100% recyclable, yet only 15% of used clothing is actually recycled.
Sustainability in the fashion industry looks like moving away from fast fashion companies and trends—and moving toward brands that focus on creating quality products using long-lasting materials. Fast fashion not only creates waste, but it tends to have harsh, exploitative working conditions for garment workers: little to no safety or health standards, long working hours, and the constant pressure to produce more at a quicker rate.
Other sustainable practices include creating products with biodegradable materials from natural or recycled fabrics, “water on budget” policies to limit water usage during clothing production, making cruelty-free and vegan clothing, upcycling textile waste, and transitioning to a circular system of manufacturing.
A Model of Sustainable Fashion: Patagonia
Recognized worldwide as one of the best sustainable clothing companies, Patagonia was one of the first adopters of using recycled materials and organic cotton in their products. In addition to the sustainable materials they use, consumers can also bring their clothes and gear in for repair, so they last longer. They also buy and resell their creations. You can get credit for bringing in your old Patagonia clothing.
According to the UN, since 2007, more than half of the world’s population has been living in cities. That number is projected to rise to 60% by 2030.
Cities are hubs of industry and innovation. As the world rapidly urbanizes, new cities pop up or current cities grow, resulting in infrastructure that’s overburdened and inadequate. With urbanization comes a growing number of slum dwellers, unplanned urban sprawl, and a worsening of air pollution.
Creating sustainable cities requires an evolved approach to managing the mounting municipal waste, especially in regards to solving the food waste problem. Waste management is particularly difficult, as it requires educating consumers and incentivizing them to change their lifestyles.
Sustainable cities require construction design with the use of sustainable materials. While installing reliable public transportation options can reduce air pollution from cars, that also requires an infrastructure overhaul and a connective matrix of streets and public spaces.
In this small village in southwestern Japan, residents take recycling seriously. Back in 2003, when the city first embarked on their ambitious zero-waste program, there were some growing pains as residents adjusted. Today, there are 34 very specific categories of waste; residents enjoy the routine of separating their aluminum cans from the steel cans—their paper flyers from the paper cartons.
80% of Kamikatsu’s garbage is recycled, reused, or composted; the rest goes to a landfill. They are saving a third of what they used to spend on waste incineration.
Though their initial goal of being zero-waste by 2020 was not met, they are still working toward it. Waste reduction on the part of a consumer can only go so far. Only when manufacturers stop producing non-recyclable products, designed to be thrown out, will places like this be able to reach 100% zero waste.
Sustainable Business Practices
As it currently stands, it’s difficult to gauge and achieve green innovation among established corporations because they benefit more from the status quo. That inhibits their desire to innovate in the way entrepreneurs do. Entrepreneurs disrupt industries. Bard Graduate Programs in Sustainability, in particular, helps create the ecological entrepreneurs who are shifting the way industries think about business.
In order to run a business sustainably, there must be an integrated bottom line that emphasizes the equal importance of profits, people, and the planet. From the natural resources needed to create the products to the supply chain along which the product travels to the financing of the companies creating the products—there is a great need to inject sustainability into every aspect of business.
Sustainability consultants help businesses view their projects, products, and processes through a sustainability lens. Often, this means a more operational focus: reducing environmental impact, like carbon emissions, fresh water consumption, and toxic pollution. However, there are many sustainability advantages in all parts of the business, from conserving water and electricity through energy-efficient toilets and lighting, to developing an in-house recycling program.
Founder and CEO, Sarah Krauss is one of America’s most successful self-made women. Her belief that the world needed fewer plastic water bottles was the foundation that launched her company. She believed that a crave-worthy bottle, combining fashion and function, could be the catalyst for change in human behavior. With fewer disposable plastic bottles being bought, there would be a reduction in single-use plastic consumption worldwide. Her company S’Well definitely made a dent.
Renewable Natural Resources and Sustainable Use
Through initiatives like the UN Life Cycle Initiative, global industries and powers are working together to find ways to use natural resources sustainably—without causing land degradation and without depleting natural (especially non-renewable) resources. The idea is to not only deplete less of our resources but regenerate them.
The shrimp aquaculture sector has often been associated with the destruction of mangrove forests in many tropical regions. However, Blueyou, Switzerland-based consultants and seafood traders, are backing the Selva Shrimp project.
Selva Shrimp promotes silvofishery—a combination of shrimp aquaculture with forestry—that focuses on mangrove restoration and the extensive production of black tiger prawns. It’s not a new concept. However, Selva Shrimp has revolutionized its management: setting up a traceability and quality assurance system, while concurrently rewarding the small-scale producers for their low-impact farming.
Because mangrove forests are the key to Selva Shrimp’s small environmental footprint and high quality, there is a direct incentive for farmers to keep the mangrove forests intact and even growing.
Sustainable Waste Management
There are a few important aspects to sustainable waste management. It requires people to use materials as efficiently as possible (thereby cutting down on the waste produced). However, when waste is generated, we must deal with it in a way that actively contributes to the economic, social, and environmental goals of sustainable development.
Sustainable waste management can free up valuable land from landfills, improve energy production, create jobs, cut costs of transportation, reduce pollution, and conserve natural resources. Managing the incredible amount of waste we produce is key to saving our planet.
What if we could eliminate waste entirely? That is how Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, thinks about waste.
TerraCycle partners with companies to take hard-to-recycle materials from their programs (ocean plastic, for example) and turn them into new products. Their new Loop platform wants to change the way the world shops: brands in refillable packaging offered with convenience and style. Even the site itself offers a capability where you can type in what you want to recycle and where you are, and it will point you to recycling programs in your neighborhood.
Sustainability in Sports
Believe it or not, sustainability efforts can be pursued in every industry, including sports. In fact, some experts believe that leveraging the cultural and market influence of sports and entertainment organizations is one of the most effective ways to promote environmental literacy to mass audiences.
Green Sports Alliance
Across 16 leagues, 194 teams, 195 venues, members of the Green Sports Alliance embrace renewable energy, healthy food, recycling, water efficiency, safer chemicals, and other environmentally preferable practices. For example, the transportation program encourages a shift away from fossil-fuel-dependent transportation by incorporating smarter travel strategies at sports venues and events, including public transportation, bike racks, and pedestrian walkways. Their procurement program enacts purchasing policies to encourage ecologically preferable products, including paper, cleaning products, and serviceware.