When I began my nutrition studies in preparation for a career of helping others make nutrition choices to improve their lives, I had no idea how that study would branch out and encompass areas outside nutrition. Areas like how to grow and produce healthy food, understanding how stressed plants and stressed animals correspond to a stressed food supply which impacts our health, how to leverage sustainable farming practices that enrich the planet rather than just depleting or destroying it, and how all the inhabitants of ecosystems (bacteria, fungi, insects, plants, and animals) are important to the survival of those ecosystems, the planet, and the human race.
Sustainability isn’t a new concept but our perception has evolved because we truly live in a global world. We get goods from around the world, including our food. Everyone may not define sustainability the same way. The definition of sustainability for a consumer will probably be slightly different from that of a producer (manufacturer or farmer) or that of a corporate employee responsible for marketing and selling. The definition may include concepts such as farming or extraction methods, environmental responsibility, harvesting or extraction limits, and resource replacement. But it may even extend to labor practices and support of local cultures and social practices.
If you look up the definition of “sustainability” from an environmental science perspective, you see it is the quality of not harming or depleting the environment or natural resources, supporting long-term ecological balance. But for me, the definition needs to go a little further to include giving back or replacing. Because if we constantly take, even if we are being as conscious as possible not to damage, resources will eventually still run out if not replenished.
Erika Galentin, in an article for the United Plant Savers journal, conceded that we live in a capitalist world. “Profit is vital to business. Business is vital to economics. Economics is vital to the maintenance and stability of culture and society”. She mentions a framework known as “triple bottom line accounting” that includes social, environmental, and financial as the measures we should use to recognize and define a sustainable business.
That has been a dilemma for me as a consumer and an investor. As a consumer, I want to purchase goods from companies that “do the right thing”. That means I have to do my homework … look into the business practices of the companies that I purchase from. That can be time consuming and sometimes that information can be hard to find. And what happens if I really want a certain product only to find out that the company selling that product doesn’t have a great reputation for any of the concepts of sustainability that I say are important? I need to make the tough decision to pass that product up. As an investor, I want my investments to be profitable but again, I want to invest in companies that “do the right thing”. There is that same research responsibility and I may have to pass up an investment in a company that does really well financially but disappoints on the social and environmental legs of sustainability. As consumers and as investors, we can only influence by putting our dollars where we want to.
So this has become an area that I include in my discussions with clients. As with discussing possible nutrition practices or lifestyle practices, the decision is up to the client. Each person has to choose what is important to them, what “fits” into their physical and mental abilities … and make their choices for how to define and support sustainability.