Sustainability isn’t such a simple concept in more ways than one. It is defined as “the ability to maintain” and “the avoidance of depletion.” Maybe partly out of instinct, but most definitely out of trained response, we think of the environment first when we think of sustainability. The two are, of course, deeply intertwined. But the definition of sustainability is broader; it is a concept we must tailor to many other sectors of our lives.
We are charged to love and care for the world we live on. Indeed, this means seeking sustainable lifestyles, reducing our footprint, and fending for the environment. We are called to do this, however, with the presupposition that this planet was not built to last. It was created with a groaning need to be redeemed and made whole in the end. Environmental sustainability is a holy, important job of human beings…to care for our home and be honorable stewards down to every itty-bitty plastic bag and liter of water. We must be gentle with our earth, so as to not allow it too deplete.
So, yes…environmental sustainability is ever more important. We must continue to applaud companies who are working to reduce harmful emissions in their factories during production, who viciously promote our environment over consumption, who utilize materials that can be utilized again and again and again. But if we are to fairly analyze what sustainability is (even in clothing companies), we have to go deeper.
An important part of ethical consumption and assessing companies on their efforts requires viewing sustainability beyond the environment. Just as the planet was not built to last, neither is the human race. We need to fully establish true integrity, true justice, and true sustainability for all. We need to chase after sustainability in the way we treat our fellow human beings. Insufficient wages to live on, abuse, health risks, slavery, no rights: this is not sustainable.
Are we working to sustain one another’s lives in the way we act and make decisions? Are we working to protect one another’s dignity? Are we working to sustain one another’s well being through fair labor ethics? These are questions that reflect our burden as fellow humans to give the dollars we spend to companies who are doing these things. It is simply their responsibility to sustain the workers they hire with fair wages, healthy conditions, and no slavery. And for those on the purchasing end, it is our responsibility to be aware of who is doing so and who isn’t.
Many, many company websites include a large deal of information about their environmental efforts. We have found this in our research time and time again. Even if a company isn’t an outdoor corporation or focused on the cause, they often include it in their efforts to exemplify good intentions. This is a good thing! Great, even. But a company who has no transparency and uses slave labor will often have concerted efforts and published information about environmental and conservational efforts. It shouldn’t be an either/or thing.
Though it is wonderful to to navigate to a company’s “sustainability” page and read about the wonders they are doing to protect our world, their websites warrant a page about how they are acting sustainably towards their laborers as well. We cannot be so concerned with what gases their factories are emitting without being so concerned about the souls that inhabit those factories every single day. When it comes down to it, they’re breathing the consequences of all that happens inside; they internalize those gases, and internalize the manner in which they are treated. We should bend over backwards to treat humans in a kind, caring, sustainable manner…perhaps with even more ferocity than we do the environment.
** Disclaimer: I have stressed this several times through this piece of writing, but want to be very clear about the fact that I am not at all disregarding the importance of environmental sustainability. I understand the gases emitted from factories and impact of using non-recyclable materials (among many other issues) affects the whole planet as well as those suffering directly. This stuff is important, important, important. I cannot even begin to claim I understand all it entails. This post is simply meant to broaden our spectrum on what the concept of sustainability means in our lives. **
Written By: Madeleine Williams