What does 'sustainability' mean?

November 14, 2022

What does 'sustainability' mean?

National Geographic magazine has a succinct definition of sustainability: “Sustainability is the practice of using natural resources responsibly today, so they are available for future generations tomorrow.” 

Sustainable development requires an integrated approach that takes into consideration environmental concerns along with economic development.  

In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Today, there are almost 140 developing countries in the world seeking ways of meeting their development needs, but with the increasing threat of climate change, concrete efforts must be made to ensure development today does not negatively affect future generations.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals form the framework for improving the lives of populations around the world and mitigating the hazardous man-made effects of climate change.

Sustainability awareness

In a survey that addressed what sustainability means, the consumer magazine Which? discovered the public has low awareness levels on the topic of sustainability. The Which? survey concluded that money is part of the issue: “For some consumers, there was a balance between making impactful change and affordability.” There is also confusion around being sustainable. The report’s authors concluded: “Consumers are willing to make changes and act more sustainably, but they are unclear on how to do this. Governments and businesses need to do more to make it easier for consumers and reduce the barriers to making low carbon choices.”

Researchers were also surprised by findings that showed only 58% of people were aware of the UK government’s climate change target to reach Net Zero by 2050. And 17% had never even heard of the term Net Zero. 

The problem with greenwashing 

Ethical business in the UK is now worth £122 billion. Increasing consumer interest in sustainable products has encouraged companies to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. Unfortunately in some cases, this has led to ‘greenwashing’ - the practice of using buzzwords, non-specific messages, and nature-inspired colours and images that give the impression of something being eco-friendly even if it’s not. 

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is now proposing new rules designed to stamp out greenwashing when it comes to the promotion of investment products. The director of environment, social and governance (ESG) at the FCA said, "Greenwashing misleads consumers and erodes trust in all ESG products". The proposed rules are in line with measures the EU and the US are also implementing. The FCA is proposing a package of measures to help improve investor understanding, including restrictions on the use of terms such as sustainable, green or ESG. 

Choosing ethical suppliers

If your company is making the effort to become more ethical and sustainable, it’ll be necessary to choose your suppliers carefully in order to ensure they are not making claims that could be deemed as greenwashing. You must check that any claims about sustainability and circular solutions are backed up with evidence, such as sustainability accreditations and certifications. 

When researching a new supplier, look at the amount of information they provide on their sustainability strategy. Is it confined to a few short generic comments? Or is there detailed information about what their strategy is and how it is being implemented and achieved? 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking sustainable is automatically more expensive

Sustainability isn’t just about swapping one component with a more eco-friendly (and more expensive) one. Sometimes being sustainable is as easy as simply reusing what you already have. This is a huge part of our own business model, and repurposing and renovating office furniture items you already have will save you money and make your budget go a lot further. This not only saves you money, but it’s also a big win in terms of the environment, saving natural resources as well as reducing energy generation. Rather than use resources to produce and transport something new - at the same time as throwing something else away - you are ensuring that nothing is wasted. This is hugely important at a time when governments as well as companies around the world are working towards a Net Zero target.  

Dealing with waste 

How a company deals with its waste is also an indication of how sustainable it is. As an example, we have a zero waste to landfill policy which we strictly adhere to. Our policy of reusing and repurposing office furniture accounts for a large part of this, but we also rehome unwanted furniture that is still usable and recycle anything that isn’t. By the end of 2022, we will have diverted 27,021 unwanted furniture items from landfill to materials recycling, saving 641 landfill tonnes and 857 tonnes CO2e. We have also rehomed over 4,500 items in the community, and saved our clients over £1.6million through ongoing site repair and refresh services – preventing yet more unnecessary destruction of natural habitats to make new furniture items.

Better still, create no waste in the first place

We believe that sustainability is also about buying better with the aim of getting long-term value out of your office furniture. When our clients buy new furniture, they want it to last for as long as possible. By maintaining good quality furniture, companies can significantly expand the life of office furniture, reducing the cost at the same time as increasing the value for money, as well as dramatically reducing carbon and waste. In addition, all our clients are local which enables us to keep our emissions low and service levels high.

JPA is more than just a business

There are three pillars of sustainability – People, Planet and Purpose. We think that because the majority of organisations focus on the economic purpose of making money, people and the planet are out of sync. Sustainable development has all three pillars working in harmony, underpinned by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Net Zero. Moving forward, a more acceptable business purpose will be doing the right thing, and making profits do the right thing (harnessing growing awareness of social and environmental injustice, the global need for action and to attract the right talent needed).

We are not just sustainable furniture experts. We are passionate about building better, more inclusive, and more sustainable environments. People and the planet are at the heart of everything we do. This means we not only have a lot of very happy clients, we also have a trophy cabinet full of sustainability-related business awards. We must be doing something right!

To discover more about what JPA can do for your workplace, and what kind of sustainable designs we are known for, get in touch with our team of sustainability experts.

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