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This is what sustainability really means…

  • News
  • 11 min read
This Is What Sustainability Really Means

We use the word sustainability to describe so many things from energy through investing to development, business plans and even relationships. And yet, if you Google the word, the vast majority of the links ask; what is sustainability? Its an incredibly simple and fiendishly complicated answer. In its purest terms, were describing the ability to withstand, to be supported, to maintain and to survive but for Positive Luxury that doesn’t go far enough.


Positive Luxury applies the definition proposed by Gro Harlem Brundtland in WCEDs 1987 Report Our Common Future describing “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In the early days – as we started to realise our planet, our health and our survival were under threat from our own activities we struggled to even find the vocabulary to solve our problems. Googles Ngram viewer records the mentions of individual words in as many books as possible stretching back to the 1800s. Sustainability is almost entirely absent until the late 1970s when it starts to soar by 2008 the use of the word had multiplied by an astonishing 70 times.

The problem was, the early dream of a sustainable future was about an imagined perfection usually a dream of Eden from an earlier time. Growth and progress had to be stopped. According to some environmentalists including the UN-backed Club of Rome in 1972 – we needed to forcibly reduce our population.

Today, however, the world is ready is asking for a new way to keep ourselves and our planet healthy and happy. Two-thirds of consumers not only say they want sustainable products or experiences but actively switch to or boycott a brand based on their sustainability credentials, according to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer.



It’s a movement Positive Luxury dub  ‘Generation Less’, first mentioned in their 2019 Predictions Report not because they want to give things up and return to the past, but because they want to build a future using the things that will really last. Conscious, social, global – these are what they strive for. Status has become less about what I have and more about who I am.’

Futurist and author William Higham describe this generation as people who “increasingly look for more meaning in what they do, therefore possessions are proving less valuable than experiences, and the memories and learnings that we gain from them. In the future, what we do, will matter more to us and our peer network than what we buy.”

For these people, life is about progress, not perfection. After years of presenting fictionalised perfect versions of yourself on social media, we know that it’s not good for our health. Studies from University of Pennsylvania and York University in Canada last year showed that social media caused depression and loneliness while those who limit their use feel less anxious and happier with their own looks and body. Assuming there’s perfection just makes us realise how far from perfect everything is.



Bad news also stresses us out according to the American Psychological Association, more than half of Americans say that the news causes them stress, anxiety, or sleep loss. But that’s not to say things can’t get better. Geoffrey van Raemdonck, CEO of the Neiman Marcus Group, believes the world has become too “transactional. In a world where technology moves so fast, we have to change the conversation. We need to really find how we can engage. We need to go back to the magic of emotions, the magic of experiences.”

So when there is some good news some progress or collaboration we should shout about it a little more. Take beauty products giant Kiehls, which publicly launched its Corporate Social Responsibility initiative last year dubbed Kiehls K+ Made Better – with commitments to continuous improvement across five key pillars: naturally derived ingredients, sustainably sourced ingredients, responsible packaging and manufacturing, recycled materials, and community impact. Or take Belvedere Vodka, which recently kick-started its Raw Spirit Program to promote the sustainable growth of its key ingredient – Polska Rye.

People are eager to see hopeful stories in 2018, the Guardian announced the results of its pilot project to explore the reaction of their readers to reports about the good things happening all across the globe. Readers noticed, read to the end, shared it with their friends to create rare pools of wellbeing on social media. “People long to feel hopeful again,” according to the Guardians editor Katherine Viner. “Young people, especially, yearn to feel the hope that previous generations once had.”

While sensationalism and terror still remain the dominant media narratives and sustainability is a confusing and complex topic, it’s clear that ‘Generation Less’ wants more good news. This represents a huge opportunity for brands to simplify their message and explain their progress on animal welfare, plastic pollution, waste reduction and all the changes being made in the name of sustainability and Positive Luxury’s Butterfly Mark is leading the transparency charge.

Image credits: Unsplash

Written by - Stephen Armstrong

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