Sustainability is an unavoidable solution to another big crisis we are facing – the climate crisis. Sustainability was at a peak just before the Coronavirus crisis. However, it has almost disappeared from popular discussions in the last few months. This creates a big uncertainty for all the companies and organizations that invested in sustainability.
I previously wrote that sustainability as a value offered to customers will have to be put on hold during and after the Coronavirus crisis. I was referring to the perception of customers, not the technical reality. Technical reality is that sustainability will be boosted by the Coronavirus crisis.
The real problem is that “sustainability” is a wrong term. The climate crisis supporters have been struggling with terminology for decades and were not able to clearly explain to the public what is going on and what needs to be done. Term “sustainability” is just one among many confusing outcomes, while “global warming” is probably the biggest blunder in scientific policy communication ever.
The technical reality of sustainability is that it is an improvement in efficiency and elimination of waste. The most appropriate alternative term currently used in the business world would be “lean”. Coronavirus crisis, just like any crisis, will require most activities to become leaner and more down to earth. Most sustainable companies and products can be defined as “lean” as well. Lean and sustainable are in most cases the same thing. They are the most efficient use of all resources with a long term growth plan.
After the Coronavirus crisis, need for sustainability products, services, processes will be higher than ever. But the naming of those needs to be adjusted to “lean”, “profitable”, “efficient”. It is an adjustment in language making the same companies and products more acceptable under the new rules. Just like cheesy stock photos of trees never made sense to business people, so will the term “sustainable” loose its ground. And this is a good step forward because “sustainability” was a hard to sell outsider term anyway.
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