Teenagers can often be considered too young to effect any real change. In reality, though, this group of youngsters is one of the most powerful voices in our efforts to address sustainability. Consider Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl who at age 15 protested against climate change outside the Swedish Parliament. Or the teenagers behind Zero Hour — “an environmentally focused, creatively minded and technologically savvy nationwide coalition” — that is fighting for the cause of environmental justice.
Teenagers today are more powerful than ever, and more importantly, are the future of our planet. So if anyone told you that you couldn’t make a difference; think again. Even if you aren’t in the position to protest against governments or organize nationwide marches, there are many things you can do to promote sustainability in today’s world. One such thing is making an active effort to support sustainable companies. Read on to learn how you can identify sustainable companies and take action to make for a more environmentally just world.
Identifying Sustainable Companies
While the Internet provides many resources and lists of vetted companies, it’s good to be able to identify sustainable businesses on your own. To do so, you should know the basics of what makes a sustainable business.
An article by Northeastern University states: “The most common definition of sustainability in a business sense relates to environmental stewardship, conservation, and protection.” Furthermore, one of the core concepts of sustainability in businesses is the triple bottom line approach. Under this approach, “a company puts its venues, expenses, and profits into an environmental and social context.
From here, a company may gain a better understanding of costs that can’t be accounted for in a traditional way.” The triple bottom line approach allows leadership to perform thorough cost-benefit analyses on past and proposed actions. In turn, these analyses can be used to ensure the most sustainable path forward is chosen.
After understanding these concepts, you can start to evaluate various companies to see whether they meet core sustainability requirements. Here are some ways to do so:
Read Mission Statements
A company’s mission statement succinctly defines its goals and aims. Often, a company’s values will be reflected in its mission statement. Read a company’s mission statement to see if its sustainable values match your own. While going through a company’s mission statement, ask yourself questions like:
- Does the company’s mission include values that benefit the wider community and environment?
- Does the company’s mission set out a clear case for sustainability?
- Does the company’s mission reflect a commitment to reduce waste, source products sustainably and support local communities?
- Are the company’s goals aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals as outlined by the UN?
Read Past Progress Reports
Progress reports can offer valuable insight in regards to the inner-workings of a company. From learning about management styles to specific actions the company has taken in the past to become more sustainable, these reports can be extremely useful in identifying a company’s true values. An article in The Guardian recommends checking for transparency in financial accounting and reporting when browsing through a progress report. This will allow you to judge whether the company follows a triple bottom line approach. Additionally, comparing past annual progress reports can give you insight into how a company has changed over time to become more sustainable.
It’s important to see whether the company has made any serious effort in the past, or if it has just remained stagnant. For instance, a business might have committed to reducing its carbon footprint by converting to sustainable document storage and disposal. The following year’s progress report should ideally detail how the company has achieved this goal — whether by going fully digital, eliminating hard-copy storage, or recycling shredded documents. If the progress report fails to mention any actions taken, it’s likely the business has slacked on its commitment, which in turn makes for a bad precedent.
Check for External Certifications
Checking whether a business is certified for sustainability by an external body is a good way to filter through various options. To get certified, most external certifying organizations require companies to meet certain standards. For instance, to qualify for LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, companies must meet requirements across various parameters such as efficient energy use and clean air quality. Similarly, the TRUE Zero Waste certification is given to companies that work towards achieving zero waste and minimizing their carbon footprint. Checking to see whether a company is certified by an external recognized body is a useful first step when evaluating companies for overall sustainability.
The next step after the identification process is to take concrete action to support the sustainable businesses you’ve pinpointed. Here are some things you can do:
Boycott “Bad” Products and Services
In this context, a “bad” product isn’t one that simply doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Rather, “bad” products and services are those that are not aligned with any sustainability goals whatsoever or those that are produced by companies that continue to disregard the environment. Mass-produced sunscreen is one such example, as its usage can severely harm coral reefs and in turn, destroy the marine ecosystem. Boycotting these products and switching over to more sustainable alternatives (like reef-friendly sunscreen in this case) is a useful and relatively easy step you can take.
When you go shopping next, stick to products that come from companies that are on your “good” list. Boycott products that use excessive plastic packaging, are non-recyclable and contribute to air and ocean pollution. At first, it may seem overwhelming to boycott products like your favorite shampoo because it is packaged in non-recyclable single-use plastic — but after the initial hurdle, you will come to realize that switching to a more sustainable lifestyle is actually quite easy.
Spreading awareness is one of the best strategies to encourage the adoption of sustainability. In fact, in an article for CRB USA that talks about working together towards a sustainable world, author Sharbel El Haber writes, “Unless we practice mindfulness and increase awareness that we are creating our world through our thoughts and actions, it is difficult to make the necessary changes. It would be like trying to find our way in the dark.”
Thankfully, spreading awareness is one of the easiest things you can do — and it has a domino effect! When you tell one of your friends about a sustainable brand you’ve found, they’re likely to pass that information along to other interested parties too — and so the chain continues. From talking to your family about why they should boycott certain products, to giving a short presentation at your local community center about the importance of choosing sustainable companies; you can spread awareness in multiple different ways. Remember, convincing even one other person to become more sustainable in their ways can make a difference.
Use these tips to make informed decisions in your daily life. Supporting companies dedicated to sustainability might seem insignificant in light of bigger climate-related movements — but rest assured, it is an important step to take in the fight for environmental justice everywhere.