By David Roessler, Career and Industry Specialist, ASU's Career and Professional Development Services
It’s 2020 and sustainability is one of the hottest trending buzzwords of the new century. Some might even see it as polarizing, especially in the political arena, but what does it actually mean? As we head into the next decade and beyond, the idea of sustainability is only going to become more prominent worldwide. This will force the hand of individuals, businesses and politicians to unpack their own philosophies of sustainability in the mainstream to build a better future for society.
As I started to unpack my ideas of sustainability, I took the word and definition literally. I started thinking about the choices I make in my personal life to lessen my footprint for a sustainable future. I thought liberally about why these sustainable items and actions jumped into my head above the rest. It became clear, my ideas were centered around “what people are doing to be sustainable”, not “why they are doing it”. In every instance, sustainability started with an innovative idea:
Paperless billing and electronic banking
Reducing and eliminating the use of single-use plastics
Restaurants and hotels switching to biodegradable products
Carpooling & Ridesharing (Cars, Bikes and Scooters)
Saving rainwater to re-use on the yard and house plants
Ditching the home printer and leaning into technology with more digital organization
Hybrid and electric cars
These are all choices in 2020 that reduce the burden of one’s footprint for a sustainable future. However, before it became an international phrase most these were all choices that saved money for businesses and individuals with sustainability conceiving itself as a byproduct. Biodegradable straws and to-go products in restaurants and paperless billing in banking are perfect examples of innovative ideas in business that contributed to the bottom line. As we head further into the future, individuals will continue to vote with their wallets based on their social values more than ever. The effect is that businesses are aligning their philosophies and values with the model, “if it’s good for the environment, then it’s good for business.”
As regulations and policies expand because of the existential threat of climate change, some might frown. In the business world, the saying goes, “regulations are bad for business, because they stifle innovation.” When it comes to sustainability I believe the exact opposite is true. Humankind has always shown that we tend to be our best when our backs are against the wall. As the science of climate change has taught us, we've been backing ourselves into a corner with our carbon footprint since the Industrial Revolution.
This wave of sustainable innovation is going to open worlds of ideas, but the best part is that someone is going to have to think of those ideas. CEOs, COOs and government officials across the globe, from corporations to private small businesses, will be reorganizing departments and creating futuristic positions for the innovative minds who will fill them. The question to the professionals wanting lead the change in sustainability is simple. Will it be you or the CEO that thinks of the innovative position first? If you're looking to start a career in sustainability, the world is truly your oyster.
So my definition is simple. Sustainability is, “Innovation for the Future OF Societies." I can now say, I’m not as worried about climate change. I believe it will force humankind into the most innovative age our society has ever seen. What other choice do we have?