Buzz word or not?

Sustainability

/səsteɪnəˈbɪlɪti/

noun

  1. the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
    “the sustainability of economic growth”
    • avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
      “the pursuit of global environmental sustainability”
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

I am surrounded by it; see this word is being handed around everywhere. I go to sleep at night thinking about it, I dream about it, I wake up in the morning and again, sustainability is all around me.  What does it bloody mean? What exactly is sustainable? Where can I or should I apply this word? Do we need some new words in the English language? I am completely obsessed and haunted.

Chapter 1:

A few years ago, I was running a high school canteen, as a business but within a public school, it was awesome!! Totally and 100%lly brilliant.  I made all the food from scratch, provided healthy food and drinks and had a team of wonderful humans helping me do this. I reduced the waste in the canteen substantially and implemented training programs.  I was a waste warrior!!! During this period I reached out to the school to see if we could go one step further, feed the chickens at the agriculture farm, take the scraps to the local pig farm, but to my disappointment everywhere I turned there was a roadblock, someone or some rule or law prohibited this being a sustainable option for the canteen.  All I wanted was some eggs or a chook occasionally in exchange for the delivery of some fine compostable or edible scraps. It was after hitting these roadblocks that I just gave up. I did! I didn’t have the time, I was working for around $10 per hour when I added up all the extra time I did, but that wasn’t the reason why I gave up, it just seemed that the odds were stacked against me or hospitality businesses to just throw it out, to keep doing what we had always done and not bother.  After another year or so I ended up moving on from the canteen as it was unsustainable, but not in the environmental warrior way, but as the amount of hours needed to manage the business, make the food from scratch and basically give a shit about our kids and their nutrition, my own nutrition and kids were suffering, I had to create another chapter.

Chapter 2:

I moved on from the canteen, sold the goods, and closed my company, this was the time for me to branch out and move into the study world, Bachelor of Psychology, that was the goal.  For a time it was amazing, I was up at 5 studying till 8, then cleaning houses to keep bringing in the money for the family, yes that’s right, mortgage and all the wonders of keeping a home for a family and being sustainable had to be met, right!  I studied for the year, but I couldn’t keep it up, again it was unsustainable, but not in the eco friendly way, but in the way of working so hard to keep the money coming in, studying, writing essays until the late and wee hours of the morning, and again this bloody word kept coming up, Sustainability!!! It is freaking haunting me.  It is in so many facets of my life, everyone’s life. So yes, you guessed it, I had to defer and put my energy into working a full time role and stabilise my life, stopping the juggle. I was disappointed that I couldn’t make it happen. I had left my studies, I had kids,I had a home to keep. So I took a job, career move into a bulging travel business that was going off.

Chapter 3:

I started working a couple of days per week, which was so manageable, very very sustainable for my life.  I had a nice balance of work, pleasure, kids and social life, but again the bloody ‘S’ word haunted me, I couldn’t keep working only 3 days per week, it was unsustainable, our family needed more money, two salaries wasn’t enough these days.  So I upped it to full time and then I was again on the train of working too many hours, not seeing my family enough, not looking after myself and having a balanced life, it just got away from me, I became the work, I was constantly looking for the ladder and working to climb it everyday.  I saw myself in the business for a long time, for god’s sake, I built the foundations of the team I was in.

The business went through the roof and was growing 5000% year on year, my role grew, the workload grew, the hours grew, but the sustainability of my life suffered.  The travel business is exciting, has so many rewards for those in the right spot at the right time, the business was growing so fast that the team was crushed, and we were all just spakfilling the holes constantly.  I reached out for help, asked many times and it was never received, what did I have to do to be heard? After a period of feeling the world stack all the libraries books on my shoulders I was spent. I had no support, the business was unsustainable!  I left in a haze of confusion, intimidation and couldn’t face walking back in there, around there ever again, I was damaged and never will be the same again. I fell into a pit of workplace depression, anxiety and sat in my house for 6 months healing.

Chapter 4:

It was during this time spending hours upon hours healing, reflecting and pondering that this word ‘sustainable’ was constantly being shown to me. I realised everything is unsustainable as we know it.  All the different facets of the word. It isn’t just workloads, family and daily life, it is multi million dollar corporations, businesses, cafes, politics, schools, vehicles, travelling, industry, agriculture everything is showing up in today’s world to be unsustainable.  

Recently I took part in a citizens jury with our local council which was an enlightened experience that showed a different opportunity to include regular people in decision making processes, well that is the idea anyway.  I was chosen as a participant, it was exciting, my voice was going to be heard, we were going to be included in writing a policy that our council committed to implement for the next 2 years. It was during this experience that I met Therese, a very intelligent, educated and contrary woman.  We connected, I like her a lot. She challenges me and the way I talk my story. She asked for my background and I gave her the breakdown, the last year of depression, anxiety and where I was feeling the growth and joy in my heart now, the sustainability field, ecological education, innovation and championing humans who give a shit.  She proposed that maybe sustainability was not just a buzz word for the eco friendly warriors but a word that is all encompassing in every facet of our lives.  

Bing!

A lightbulb went off, that is it, we need to be sustainable in more than one area of our life.  It is nice (I hate the insipid word nice) but it is nice that we recycle, compost, consume less, buy eco friendly fashion, shop at the farmers markets, these are all important steps to making a sustainable home choice, but we need to ask is our career sustainable, is what we are selling sustainable? Is this takeaway coffee sustainable?, is studying at 5 – 7 am sustainable, and then working a 40 hour week, is running the kids to every after school sport sustainable?, is 6 hours sleep a night sustainable?, eating 3 times per day sustainable? you get the f’ing idea, yeah!!! 

Humans are completely unsustainable, but there is a but, What if what we did for a living was sustainable?, how would that transpose to our everyday lives.  What if we not only provided a sensible and reasonable income, but what we sold to others was conscious, that we understood each and every facet of the product, where it was made?, who made it?, were they looked after?how much fuel does my seat on the plane use?, is this tour for $500 actually fiscally appropriate?, where does this TV end up when it dies in 2 years? And the list goes on. 

A couple of weeks ago I flew to Sydney to see a good girlfriend, it was her birthday.  It was the first time I had anything to do with travel since leaving the industry, and with a new perspective, it was eye opening to say the least.  As usual I did the research thing sitting there watching the hundreds to thousands of people pass me in the airport, inspired I conducted a series of off the cuff interviews of people travelling and I was really shocked at the responses. Most people understand that the airline industry is the largest polluter of carbon into the atmosphere, but they did nothing to mitigate their carbon footprint when travelling, a few took a water bottle, but that is it.  Not one person paid the additional $2 for the carbon offset, and to be honest who blames them? I don’t, it should be mandatory, factored into every purchase we make, how much carbon was emitted in the process of this product and what the cost associated is, where the money goes to and what programs are being built to assist with the taxing nature of all what humans do, consume, consume, consume. This is only one facet of the travel industry and its pollution, but hey we all love to see the world, yes!  I know I do, so that is why I am so perplexed that this one luxury that is quickly becoming mainstream worldwide that no carbon offsets are costed into each and every ticket. We are asking people to elect to purchase them. The same rant goes on packaging in supermarkets, plastic bag production, plastic straw products, packaging of all sorts, fast fashion industries, meat production, electricals etc. Is it the consumers responsibility? Yes to a degree it is, but it is also the responsibility of each and every human who makes something, a product, service or packages up a product to be responsible.  If the tap was turned off, what would happen? If plastic just stopped being produced tomorrow, would the world as we know it fall apart? Some industries would die, yes but they probably need to so we can move into newer and more sustainable practices, as my career died flying people all over the globe for a fraction of the actual cost, you rebuild, you go back to basics, you think outside of the box and you make new options for yourself and others. The choice to be sustainable is ours, we have the power in how we earn our money, and how we spend it.

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