Well my confession is that I have never really focused on the social side of the sustainability triangle. I have always viewed activities which have a more social slant as the “nice to do” things but I am quick to try and pick apart the financial robustness, replicability or scalability. The environment and economic arguments have always resonated more strongly with me through my career as I have tried to engage people and deliver behaviour change. So, I’m ashamed to admit my triangle has been more isosceles than equilateral in the past.
However, since joining Resource Futures my eyes have been opened, not only by the staff who work here but by the company's guiding principles and general direction. This has been demonstrated with the recent declaration that Resource Futures has become a Certified B Corp, part of a global movement to redefine success in business. Resource Futures is committed to creating value for society and doing business in a way that not only brings about economic success but also addresses our most challenging environmental problems.
To further highlight my negligence of the social side of sustainability a quote by Eric Lombardi, Executive Director for Ecocycle, one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the USA, at this year’s Scottish Resources Conference has really stuck with me:
"It was ethics and morality that ended slavery not a spreadsheet - the spreadsheet actually said do more!"
Eric provocatively made the point that if we are waiting on the economic argument becoming the driving force behind the environmental/social change we are wanting then to coin a well-known phrase - we could be waiting till the cows come home.
That is not to say that acting environmentally can’t be economically beneficial as well, in my experience, it often is. However, sometimes regardless of the amount of money saved and environmental impacts reduced, some organisations / people still fail to make a change because they perceive change as too much effort or too risky an endeavour. It was a social movement that defeated slavery, so perhaps to see environmental behaviour change on mass we must instil the same sort of social outrage that exists around topics such as slavery to turn public opinion and mobilise the masses in a way that becomes the norm.
On the topic of galvanising public support, Eric accurately pointed out the difficulty in capturing the hearts and minds of the public:
“Building grassroots movements for positive causes is harder to come by than those fighting a negative cause”
Personally, I am recognising the value of those who are tackling the socio-environmental solutions across the country which are harder to do, less financially viable, and less mainstream. Whether that be through the Third Sector, Social Enterprises, Charities or Organisations who are committed to doing things for the benefit of others like Resource Futures. This is a difficult task operating out on the fringes and relies heavily on the convictions and passion of those individuals involved.
In Scotland, we are blessed with a very strong and diverse third sector and after attending the CRNS Annual Conference in Perth this month, I feel that we are on the verge of seeing unparalleled levels of collaboration between the public, private and third sector – particularly with regards to the Circular Economy. With direct support for this area from the Scottish Government and European Structural Funds, delivered through Zero Waste Scotland, providing the ideal conditions for change and positivity.
So, as I continue to challenge myself to embrace the social side of sustainability I wanted to lay down the same challenge to all of you and ask you to ask yourselves - how equilateral is my triangle?
Allan Sandilands, Senior Consultant, Resource Efficiency