North Texas Daily

True sustainability is inconvenient but necessary

True sustainability is inconvenient but necessary

True sustainability is inconvenient but necessary
October 07
14:15 2021

Claims of sustainability seem to be the latest trend in advertising. It has crept into every market and product imaginable, from laundry detergent to food products and even furniture. For every company proudly proclaiming its sustainability, there are many more who try to imply it. Accusations of “greenwashing” have been leveled at major companies such as BP, Volkswagen and Starbucks. This is when companies use deceptive and misleading tactics to appear more environmentally friendly than they really are. Every brand wants to be seen as sustainable, and for good reason.

But sustainability is not limited to reducing carbon emissions and using biodegradable plastics. While the U.S. has no legal requirement for labeling a product as sustainable, various parameters have been set by the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards. These voluntary standards include provisions for workers’ rights and social protections, maintaining water sources and biodiversity, and supporting continuous improvement in the way we produce, package and transport products.

However, what about the thousands of products on our shelves that do not tout sustainable qualities? It may seem a bit obvious to point out that these kinds of products are inherently unsustainable, but the public rarely seems to consider that side of the coin. How long can we continue to operate this way? To truly maintain our quality of life and the environment we live in, we will soon have to entirely reshape our modes of production and consumption.

It is no wonder that we are in such a pickle. It is a flawed design philosophy that has led us to this point. For centuries we have prioritized convenience and profit over our environment and resources. Companies can exhibit an almost flagrant disregard for stewardship and responsibility, creating problems just to sell us the solutions. One particularly egregious example of this is the infamous Keurig K-Cup.

Enough K-Cups have been deposited in our landfills that they could circle the Earth more than 10 times, according to the Story of Stuff Project, an environmental nonprofit group based in Berkeley. Since 2020, all K-Cups sold in the U.S. are technically recyclable, though only one-third of our recycling programs accept the plastic used in the cups. Do we really believe the traditional coffee maker is burdensome enough to justify such a product? Is saving 30 seconds from our morning routine worth the mountains of garbage it creates?

However, the concept of sustainability is manifold and all-encompassing. Making our products recyclable or biodegradable serves only as a Band-Aid to the true problem. Even if 100 percent of our used K-Cups managed to get recycled, there are many more aspects to consider, including the impact of production, labor and transportation.

For example, freighter ships handle nearly 90 percent of all global trade every year, totaling more than 11 billion tons of goods in 2019. These shipping vessels release harmful chemicals into both the atmosphere and the oceans. Studies have found noise pollution to also pose a serious problem for marine life, as the humming of ship engines can travel for miles, disrupting species such as whales who communicate through sound. We need to decrease our reliance on these international supply chains, turning instead to local manufacturers. While this is not always practical, it is the philosophy we should constantly be striving toward.

Every stage in a product’s life cycle must be thoughtfully taken into account in order to achieve true sustainability. We cannot afford to maintain the status quo, or simply look for patchwork solutions. Every product or company not actively furthering this goal is essentially operating under an expiration date. It could be 20 years from now, or it may be 50, but make no mistake: the opposite of sustainable is unsustainable.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Tanner Woods

Tanner Woods

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