National Geographic

Due to global warming and environmental problems, sustainable living is becoming a more critical necessity by the day. Society has to find more environmentally friendly ways of living to ensure humanity’s survival. Fortunately, we do not have to go too far to discover an answer to this problem. Throughout history, there have been many civilisations that established sustainable settlements; some have even survived until this day. People have managed to create a cycle of sustainability that is adaptable to nature, renewable, and satisfactory with the main survival requirements.

David Attenborough, one of the most renowned environmentalists, made a documentary called “A Life On Our Planet” to demonstrate the seriousness of global warming and make a call for action. Attenborough also provided solutions. One of the critical remarks that he made was concerning the growing population. By 2100, experts estimate the World’s population to be around 11 billion people. This increase will lead to a higher consumption rate of our planet’s finite resources to tackle population growth; Attenborough suggests implementing measures to lift people out of poverty and improve global healthcare systems. The eradication of poverty is in line with the education system changes; a better quality education guarantees a more qualified workforce, which boosts the economy and develops the nation as a whole. That is why Attenborough also suggests that girls should have the same rights and standards as boys. However, governments often use education as a tool in politics; this makes an education reform that aims at equality unlikely to be implemented by some politicians. There have been theories and assumptions about the differences between governments’ education policies, which are usually related to their level of development and what rules are imposed on them by other countries. Simultaneously, population growth is unlikely to slow down since governments use it as a political and economic strategy to create a more extensive and younger workforce.

Attenborough also urgently suggests transforming from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Businesses and countries alike are making this transition. For example, Morocco has been a nation that relied on oil and gas for many years but now hosts the most extensive solar energy panels and generates 40% of its energy requirements at home from renewable energy. However, according to Attenborough, this transition to renewable energy in most countries is not fast enough. Attenborough urges governments to take such models as an example. Transition to renewable energy resources means tremendous changes in the sources of profits for multinational companies such as petroleum companies like Shell and BP, which have oil as the centre of their business. Recent developments call for drastic changes, which means either a fast adaptation or bankruptcy for many companies.

Fortunately, there have been examples of civilisations both in the past and today’s World that prove a way of living more sustainably. Julia Watson, an architect at Lo-Tek and professor of Urban Design at Harvard University, points to a couple of settlements, such as the village of Ma’dan, in the southern wetlands of Iraq. For many generations, the settlers have been living in houses made up of an endemic plant called “Qasab Reed” This plant has a very resilient structure that is heat resistant, easily bendable, and light enough to allow the villagers to construct floating houses that are convenient to the areas natural conditions.

Another example is the tree bridge in the village of Khasi in the Meghalaya region of India. It was constructed over the centuries by earlier settlers. The bridge is the only way kids who live on the other side of the village can go to school. Lake Nokoue in the Tofinu region of Benin is another sustainable village example mentioned by Watson. Anglers have arranged the fishing ponds that are suitable for the maintenance of the natural lake dynamic. The lake contains algae which contribute to the oxygen production that keeps the water clean and healthy for marine animals. A commonality in these examples is that these areas are less populated, pointed out by Attenborough.

Furthermore, according to Geoffrey E. Dahl, the source of food that comes from animals and necessary for a healthy existence is missing in the diet of approximately 800 million individuals. Nevertheless, some sources like C.N. Hewitt suggest that the current global food production is sufficient to meet human nutritional needs in 2050, by presenting a radical societal adaptation, takes a more optimistic stance on the matter, giving support for Attenborough’s concerns.

Nevertheless, examples given by Watson provide alternative ways of production and business. One example of sustainable companies is MUD Jeans, a sustainable Dutch fashion brand that aims to make fashion circular. Circular, in this case, refers to a “circular economy”,  a concept discussed by Stahel in 2016, among other economic ideas. In his article, Stahel first elaborates on the linear economy. The company first makes the jeans, which are then sold and burned as trash or discarded to a landfill, where they pollute the environment. In a circular economy, the manufacturer recycles the jeans and uses the extracted cotton in other products that cut down on water and waste. Finally, the third approach is a performance economy in which products are also services in a way. In other words, by leasing a pair of jeans, you are only paying for the benefit of the product. By paying solely on the quality of service, manufacturers receive better feedback and the higher efficiency of their products which makes the performance economy more sustainable than the circular economy. We want to keep our resources in use for as long as possible. Using circular and performance economic models, MUD Jeans uses 92% less water, 70% less CO2, 47% less land, and 40% more recycled content. This data is an example of only a relatively new and small start-up.

The application of the circular economy is also visible in the new business models of many start-ups today. For example, “lean start-up” comes from the Japanese “lean business” methodology pioneered by Toyota in the 1980s. Later on, the lean manufacturing model was brought to the US by John Krafcik in 1988 in his article: “Triumph of the Lean Production System.” The report emphasises the higher productivity and efficiency levels of the lean model compared to the non-lean model. Lean manufacturing favours experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development. By centring “efficiency” as the primary goal, lean manufacturing creates more room for sustainability that pushes even the most prominent companies to look for more efficient ways to minimise resource waste and improve its usage. For example, 3% of the earth’s water is fresh, out of which 2.5% of it is unavailable, locked away in the glaciers, polar regions, and the atmosphere. That leaves only 0.5% of the freshwater available. Due to the scarcity of this resource, several businesses like Coca-Cola teamed up with World Wildlife Fund in 2008 to improve water efficiency by 20% in 2012. In March 2010, for World Water Day, Coca-Cola added 12.7 million dollars to its commitment to the Water and Development Alliance. Besides its business operations, Coca-Cola has also worked with the local governments to improve the water quality in its business areas to secure its customer base by maintaining freshwater, which serves the basic needs of humanity for survival. Even though multinational companies usually receive the pointed end of people’s judgment for being unethical in exploiting the natural resources of the host countries, Coca-Cola proved the opposite with their business policy. The example reflects the vital lesson given by Adam Smith: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their self-interest.” Smith here underlines the connection between individualism, which comes from self-achievement, and collectivism which serves the “common, greater good” of the people. Individual goals do not necessarily harm or go against the will of ordinary people. It is evident in this example that Coca-Cola, a multinational business, ‘cares’ about the health and quality of life of its customers to prevent the loss of its customer base. This example fundamentally underlines the importance of the change of perspective from the “grand profit plan,” which can be associated with the general bias against multinationals being “malignant,” to a more customer-based approach of Coca-Cola lean philosophy of doing business.

Imagine how our world could transform if every other company and government, regardless of their specific visions and aspirations, follow these examples. The main reason behind the current economic system is the survivorship bias. It is a logical error of focusing solely on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This theory relates to the limited mindset of many executives to be only result-oriented and having a way of thinking that is beneficial only on a short-term basis. Since the linear economy focuses mainly on profit maximisation, it ignores the hindrances in the manufacturing process, bringing negativity in the long term.

Unfortunately, the only way to make this change come true is when people cast aside their selfish ambitions and put the greater good above them. In other words, we must choose the right way instead of the easy way to ensure our survival. During the execution of these solutions, people also must act as a team and be aware of the necessity of continuing sustainable economic systems and ways of living even after the ecological problems are solved. If we do this, we can prove Thomas Hobbes to be wrong as he said: “They didn’t do any railing in the wolf image, they didn’t act like a bar or leopard, I guess they haven’t found anything scarier than humans.”.