When I was embarking on a Masters in Sustainable Development back in 2014 I was shocked to learn during my first lecture that the term ‘sustainable development’ isn’t even relevant anymore. A ripple of murmurs went around the hall; a room full of people wondering whether they’d just blown £9k of tuition fees on a lie.
According to the Brundtland Report (a report published in the 80s), “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The reason we were told that the term is irrelevant now is because consumption, resource depletion and global warming are so critical it could be argued that we cannot develop sustainably anymore. Depressing isn’t it?
I was also told during my studies that there are two types of people when it comes to thinking about the environment… those who think we’re royally screwed and start stockpiling for the apocalypse and those who pin all their hopes on technological innovation.
The news on climate change and resource depletion can be so gloomy we tend to switch off. Quite honestly, I went from being someone who cared deeply to someone who was so overwhelmed with the facts I fell into the ‘apocalypse’ category and stopped reading the news for a while. I stopped thinking I could make a difference.
But five years later I’m coming around to the idea that innovation could save the day, whether that’s technological innovation or simply behavioural change.
Part of my new-found optimism comes from the increased media coverage from both left and right-leaning outlets which has contributed to bans on single-use plastics and a rise in more sustainable dietary choices. Part of it comes from the improvement in wind and solar technologies and machines like the ones that are scooping up plastic from rivers and seas. And part of my optimism comes from the kind of work that is being done quietly and unceasingly in the background of industry – simple but effective initiatives like diverting waste to the reuse market as Sadlers do with such dedication.
Recycling (which, in the case of cardboard boxes is baling, pulping and re-manufacturing) is often seen as ‘green enough’, a kind of ‘that’ll do’ type attitude. It ticks the boxes for zero waste to landfill. It is necessary in some cases of course, particularly where the materials are badly damaged or too varied and unpredictable to be sorted effectively. But when a large and consistent supply of reusable material is available (cardboard boxes for example), what we need are those individuals who face sustainability and waste issues with optimism and an innovative mindset, the types of people who think, ‘actually, that’s not good enough, is there a way we can be better?’ It’s those kinds of people that I look up to, and those kind of people who are leading the way in changing behaviours within their organisations, communities and industries.
There are opportunities to make a difference everywhere you look and it doesn’t need to be a ground-breaking invention to make a positive change. A collection of small incremental improvements are all that’s needed to start turning the wheel, and when it gets going, the momentum drives everything forward to a more sustainable future.
You could make a huge difference with small and simple changes to your processes, for example changes to the way that waste is segregated. And hopefully by encouraging others I can make a little bit of difference too.
Guest post by Lauren Sadler
Lauren graduated with an MSc in Sustainable Development in 2015 and helps organisations like Sadlers communicate their values to others.
Lauren (right) with Khadija discussing environmental sustainability.
Sadlers buy used boxes in large quantities to divert to reuse. Find out more here.