Sustainability Is Broader Than You'd Suspect

In addition to fighting climate change, sustainability can impact gender equality, poverty, healthcare, education, clean water, clean energy, global hunger and biodiversity.

Sustainability concept
Pasko Maksim/

It's easy to despair in the face of poverty and its terrible effects. When I spent two weeks in southern Peru looking at my company's progress on a project, I saw people living in true, heartbreaking poverty. People who are living in some of the worst conditions imaginable — and this isn't restricted to Peru. There are millions of others in similar straits all around the world.

Seeing this firsthand renewed my conviction that the pursuit of sustainable development is humanity's best bet to elevate our collective standard of living; but we need to stop limiting the conversation about sustainability to merely environmentalist goals. Sustainability sets out to help humankind in almost every aspect of life — not only in securing a viable future for our modern society but in bringing a better life to so many still in desperate need.

What's Wrong with Traditional Sustainability?

Sustainability as we know it has traditionally focused on two issues: fighting global warming and preserving the earth's resources. These are indeed two serious concerns, and they need to be addressed on a global scale, but we're limiting ourselves to a fraction of what sustainability genuinely means.

Sustainability has become a buzzword and many see it as a synonym for "going green." This oversimplification of sustainability turns it into a politically charged issue, which impedes agreement and collaboration. It's much more than simply a buzzword, though. True sustainability moves far beyond simple discussions about environmentalism. Instead, our conversations about sustainability need to be about improving efficiency and raising standards of living through the judicious use of emerging technologies.

As we work toward a better future for all, we have to recognize the demand for raw materials will continue to grow exponentially along with the global population. We can't stop using natural resources or halt human development, but we can use our resources with minimal life cycle impacts to the environment and develop with the long-term in mind.

Creating Sustainable Lives

A sustainable future is one in which goods and services are cheaper and easier to access for more people — a future that elevates our collective standard of living without compromising the well-being of future generations. We need everyone at the table.

Our efforts to achieve sustainability tend to focus solely on technological advances to combat global warming. This has narrowed our innovations to alternative energy sources like wind or solar and new, greener types of transportation. We could take a more transformative view if we look at the drive to be sustainable as a part of our shift to Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 is simply the world's next Industrial Revolution and we're just getting started. It will change almost every aspect of human life on the planet as we incorporate machine learning, AI and high-speed 5G data into an ever-expanding Internet of Things. These developments, and the hitherto unforeseen results of Industry 4.0, will be the vehicle to help us elevate all of humanity and create truly sustainable societies. Cities worldwide have already started incorporating these technologies to improve life for their citizens, but imagine a world where everyone, even those currently living in extreme poverty, has access to technology. Then, we'll be able to see humanity flourish.

Many worthy goals come hand-in-hand with building a sustainable world. In addition to fighting climate change, sustainability can impact gender equality, poverty, healthcare, education, clean water, clean energy, global hunger and biodiversity. The possibilities are endless. That's why the conversation surrounding sustainability needs to be much broader than simply fighting global warming.

Promoting Creativity for the Betterment of Mankind

We're missing out on the creativity and imagination of millions of people worldwide who are merely struggling to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clean water and safety. People worried about where their next meal is coming from aren't focused on big-picture societal or sustainability problems. These millions of people could be contributing meaningfully to our quest for a sustainable future and we need to help get them there as quickly as possible.

As more and more people's creative brainpower is added to the global collective, we'll see even more rapid progress toward a sustainable future. Lifting individuals out of poverty must be seen as a critical part of our goal to develop sustainable solutions. We're looking at a future where we could become an interplanetary species, but we won't get there with much of the world still fighting for daily survival.

Let's Stop Limiting Ourselves

Sustainability's goal is to help elevate civilization in every possible aspect. So, ask yourself, "How can I add to society?" Just as a rising tide lifts all ships, so will our quest for true sustainability lift the rest of the world to greater heights of creativity and innovation — and that's a worthy goal to pursue.

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