4 Sustainability Myths, Debunked


By Liberty Vincent During the spookiest time of the year, we hear stories of vampires, werewolves and ghosts roaming the Earth. But now that Halloween is over, what’s even scarier? Those pesky sustainability myths. From definitions to commonly held beliefs, misconceptions about sustainability often contribute to cynical attitudes and inaction. This article highlights several of these myths, where they come from and evidence disproving them.


Sustainability = Environmentalism.


Sustainability and environmentalism are often used interchangeably in conversations about supporting the environment, leading to the misconception that the two are synonymous. Environmentalism refers to the ideology behind protecting the environment for future generations while sustainability refers to a system’s ability to be maintained. “Sustainable” can describe a successful business, a high functioning economy, a successful trick-or-treating plan, or even something simple like a study routine. In an environmental context, “sustainable” describes a world that can continue running without the total depletion of natural resources. The use of fossil fuels as an energy source would not be sustainable because fossil fuels are running out. Using solar power for energy, however, could be categorized as sustainable since the sun is not being depleted. Throughout the rest of this list, sustainability will describe an energy system that does not eliminate natural resources.


Sustainability and capitalism are incompatible.


In capitalistic societies such as the United States, consumerism flourishes. The constant demand and production of Halloween candy, horse costume masks, iPhones, Tickle-Me-Elmos, Christmas tree ornaments, Adidas Superstars, Yeezys, Bath and Body Works lotions, etc., increase fossil fuel usage and emissions, convincing many people that sustainability cannot be achieved under capitalism. Aspects of capitalism such as competition and the free market, however, are being manipulated to promote practices that are more sustainable. An example of this is carbon trading. Businesses are granted a fixed amount of emission rights, and they are allowed to sell what they do not use to other businesses. This incentivizes businesses to invest in more sustainable technologies that do not rely so heavily on fossil fuels, so that they can then profit from selling as many of their emissions rights as possible. The European Union is currently in Phase 3 of implementing such a “cap and trade” program, which has limited emissions from over 11,000 power stations and industrial plants as well as airlines, covering approximately 45% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Those Yeezys are probably still unnecessary, though.


Sustainability is too costly.


On the surface, investing in new products and machinery that deplete less fossil fuels and produce less waste seems like a hefty additional cost. This belief makes companies reluctant to implement changes, as they assume that sustainability is bad for business. They need that money for company iPhone X’s, of course. Tensie Whelan and Carly Fink of the Harvard Business Review present evidence that the benefits of sustainability outweigh the costs. By working toward sustainability, businesses can improve relationships with stakeholders, manage risks brought on by climate change such as water shortages, foster innovation that brings in more customers, improve financial performance, enhance consumer loyalty, and attract engaging and innovative employees. Additionally, Rohith Desikan of Conergy quotes the CEO of Unilever as saying that half of the Fortune 500 companies saved $500 billion through energy efficiency measures over just one year. According to CEO Rose Marcario, Patagonia has been able to increase sales by tapping into the market for environmentally friendly products.


Sustainability is hopeless.


Despite evidence that sustainability measures do have potential in first world societies and do present numerous returns on investment, some still believe that it just cannot happen. Becoming sustainable both individually and as a society requires too much of a change in lifestyle that busy schedules and materialistic attitudes just will not allow. We are a lazy, greedy populace. Sustainability may be trendy now, but interest in it will not be sustainable itself. Reports show, however, that younger generations are maintaining a stronger interest in sustainability than ever. MaryAnn Busso of Bloomberg highlights the results of a late-2014 poll, which revealed that millennials are three times more likely to choose a job because of the employer’s sustainability considerations and are two times more likely to select a product by sustainability criteria. Additionally, 84% of millennials are interested in sustainability investing. John McCormick of Forbes, focusing specifically on the auto industry, writes that wealthy millennials are predicted to choose a lifestyle that is more environmentally sustainable, causing electric vehicles to be the norm rather than just a niche product by 2040.


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