Sustainability and Greenwashing

Nowadays, there is no doubt that we are being bombarded with the term “Sustainability“. Everything around us seems more sustainable than ever: our food is sustainable, tourism is also sustainable, the new buildings being built are sustainable, mining is sustainable and many multinational companies are also sustainable. But what does this term mean?

For a large part of the population, sustainable is synonym for ecological, organic or “environmental friendly,” and this is something that I do not think is right. If we look at the definition offered by the the Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary, it says: “especially in ecology and economics that can be maintained for a long time without depleting resources or causing serious damage to the environment Sustainable Economy/Development”. In my point of view, according to this definition, there is a lack of very important issues.

The origin of the sustainable concept arose in the 1980s, analyzing the environmental problems that were being detected at that time, but also what was happening in society, and their relationship and responsibility with them. According to experts, sustainability is “to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, ensuring the balance between economic growth, environmental care and social welfare.” That is, sustainability should not only care for, respect and preserve the environment, but sustainability must be social, environmental and economic. This is known as the Triple Sustainability Theory.

And here comes to my head the word “Greenwashing“, a word I repeat very often lately. Because this is the general view that large corporations want to cause to citizens, but also to the society in general, which is reflected very well in the numbers: amount of tons of CO2 that we compensate, because we are very concerned and worried about climate change; Money we donate for biodiversity conservation campaigns; Kilograms/tons of materials we recycle or reuse. All these examples, of course, are necessary and urgent, but these actions do not make us more sustainable, if we forget and move away from the other pillars of sustainability.

There would be many issues to comment or criticize as well, and possibly this will require several (or many) articles, but I want this to be a first general approach to this concept. Environmental sustainability, as we see, “is dominated”, but what about the other two pillars of sustainability? Economic sustainability and social sustainability. Undoubtedly, we live in a world with high poverty rates where millions of people are dying of hunger; We see great wage and social inequalities every day; Discrimination based on gender, race or sexual status; Populations without access to water and sanitation; and production and consumption are not responsible. Does not this also take part in sustainability?

Just to cite a few of examples, the most mediatic, controversial and bleeding case is the case of “Las Kellys”, the hotel maids. These women are in charge of cleaning up hotels, receiving for this chore an income that rarely exceeds € 2 per room. Many of these hotels belong to large international hotel chains, with a Corporate Social Responsibility department that is responsible for highlighting their social and environmental commitments, praising their economic solvency. In addition, some of these (luxurious) accommodations have some type of seal or distinction as a Responsible or Sustainable Tourism Company. And what happens with “The Kellys”? Do not count for this type of commitments or certifications?

We are more than 7 billion people in the world. It is estimated that by 2050 we will be 9 billion. That’s nothing! Without a doubt, the (whole) environment is our great task, but the people around us: our employees, customers, collaborators or suppliers, are not yet on the to-do list.

Let us be responsible, sustainably responsible!