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Sustainability as Balance



Balance is a tricky word when it comes to sustainability. It implies that all factors must be in harmony with each other such that not a single one of them is off kilter or outweighs the others, that any consideration that isn't perfectly managed means that the overarching effort toward sustainability is nullified. As a result, when we think of sustainability in terms of balance, we imagine an unattainable perfection rather than holistic management strategies, and therein lies the danger. When sustainability becomes a catch-all term to mean everything to all people, its significance and urgency is diluted.


While this interpretation of sustainability isn't necessary untrue, it does mean it is more difficult to act upon. Asking someone to simply ride their bike versus inviting them on a specific route, on a specific day and time, for a specific amount of miles, for a specific post-ride meal and drink conjure different images indeed -- the former is vague, unmotivating; while the latter gives one a concrete impression of a fun day outdoors and the emotions that go along with a enjoyable day socializing.


To that end, it is between boundaries where true creativity and innovation can be unearthed. As a bag maker myself, I cannot tell you how difficult it is to "just make a bag." However, when I'm asked to prototype a messenger bag with a built-in laptop sleeve, cross-shoulder compatibility, water bottle pockets, and improved water-resistance, that's where the creativity starts flowing. In other words, when we are presented with a specific problem that must be solved within xyz parameters, we transcend the realm of playing with hypotheticals and start truly designing and engineering.


All that said, I believe that businesses, communities, and individuals within the ORE can attain a better sustainability "balance" by simply focusing on a specific aspect of sustainability to work on rather than allowing themselves to be overwhelmed with the idea of achieving total, holistic, "balanced" sustainability. For individuals, that could be giving up single-use plastic, making a commitment to purchase higher-quality, ethically sourced and produced clothing, or volunteering for a trash cleanup on a regular basis. On this smaller scale, any single positive change compounds over every next individual.


For medium and larger-scale businesses and communities, the path toward internal and external sustainability is to critically evaluate the intersection between their missions, visions, and core values and positive impact on our planet. One business may choose to focus on using recycled or bluesign materials (ex. Outdoor Voices), while another entity can contribute by inspecting their supply chains for any labor or ethics violations (ex. Cotopaxi), while yet another can donate a percentage of their revenue toward other groups that are already set up to do eco-positive work (ex. Smartwool).


Ultimately, both individuals and groups will need to internalize that sustainability is a collective effort across all of humanity, and not discrete efforts made amongst and sometimes in competition with others. We are all one humanity, and while true peace on earth and unity may be a pipe dream, we can look inward to evaluate our own strengths, capacities, and available resources to acknowledge where progress is already being made, what pathways still need development, and where we can best chip in to further humanity's collective effort toward achieving true balance with our planet's ecosystems.

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