It was 2004, the day after Christmas, and thousands of European and American tourists flocked to the beaches of Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to escape the winter cold in a tropical paradise.
At 7:59 am, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded, ripped open an underwater fault in the Indian Ocean, pushing a massive column of water towards unsuspecting shores. The Boxing Day tsunami would have been the deadliest in recorded history, claiming a staggering 230,000 lives in a matter of hours.
The town of Banda Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra was closest to the earthquake's powerful epicenter, and the first waves arrived in just 20 minutes. It is nearly impossible to imagine the 100-foot mountain of murky water that engulfed the coastal city of 320,000, instantly killing more than 100,000 men, women and children. Bent buildings like paper houses, trees and cars were swept away by the oil-black rapids, and virtually no one survived the flood.
Thailand was next. With waves traveling at 500 mph across the Indian Ocean, the tsunami hit the coastal provinces of Phang Nga and Phuket an hour and a half later. Despite the time frame, locals and tourists alike were unexpectedly impressed by the impending destruction. Curious swimmers even wandered among the strangely retreating waves, only to be chased by a bubbling wall of water. The death toll in Thailand was nearly 5,400, including 2,000 foreign tourists.
An hour later, on the opposite side of the Indian Ocean, waves hit the southeastern coast of India near the city of Chennai, pushing debris-choked water for miles inland and killing more than 10,000 people, for mostly women and children, as many of the men were out fishing. But some of the worst devastation was reserved for the island nation of Sri Lanka, where more than 30,000 people were washed away and hundreds of thousands left homeless.
As proof of the tsunami's record strength, the last victims of the Boxing Day disaster died nearly eight hours later, when stormy seas and rogue waves surprised swimmers in South Africa, 5,000 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.
Tsunamis look nothing like the giant break-style surf waves many of us imagine - it's a wave, but from the viewer's point of view, you wouldn't recognize it as a wave. It's more like the ocean turns into a river of white water and floods everything in its path. Once caught in the rushing waters, if the currents don't drag you underneath, the debris will finish the job.
A number of people die in earthquakes but many others are injured. It is completely reversed with the tsunamis, almost no injuries, because it is practically impossible to survive.
The serious events that hit these places in 2004 are very rare, catastrophic tsunamis are almost unknown in the long cultural histories of India and Sri Lanka. The tsunami in the Indian Ocean landed in these places that did not even have a natural warning, as they were far enough away not to feel the earthquake. Exactly how it could happen again in the conviction of going back to doing business in the usual way. So, without a natural warning, without an official warning, and without a history of tsunamis, hitting shores full of people, this is the perfect combination to cause a lot of death and destruction.
Why am I telling you about the tsunami? Because what will soon happen to us is far worse than the pandemic we are experiencing, and far worse than the tsunami described above, if we don't change course and if we don't really embrace # sustainability and not with fictitious interventions.
Even today I hear a vastness of companies and sectors that do not draw up a sustainability report, or worse still, sustainability is not part of their plans. Many fashion companies, for example, continue to make 52 collections a year (fast fashion), enormously damaging the environment and people. In other companies you work aimlessly; in still others where if you talk about well-being or values it is as if you swear, in these companies you continue to grind without direction and without asking yourself the reason for the continuous rush and trouble, destroyed families, lost education, stress and burnout that no longer does news… all this and life not to mention death flows. Frustrations, psychosis, poisons circulating at an unimaginable speed, in all of this it is your life that is at stake. There are other companies that want everything but to be truly at the service of a supreme good, to be at the service of a better world than they found it, not to mention rampant corruption in the public as well as in the private sector ... to all this dramatic tsunami in preparation. many consultants, trainers, coaches also participate ... without any preparation in the business environment and even less in the field of sustainability ... it is dramatic to see even today companies driven solely and exclusively by profit and unfortunately, they do not change course even when their health is touched or the health of their loved ones. Many complain about the pandemic and are looking forward to returning in December 2019 (extensively described in the book Rebirth where I interviewed 123 CEOs of the most influential in the world). Many still complain about the systemic misunderstanding of the situation: "companies need normality, certainty and robust support to strengthen economic growth that is still too weak ..." even today in the public and private sectors it is not yet understood that what we are experiencing is not only a health, environmental, social, financial, economic or spiritual crisis, but it is much more than all this: it is our greatest opportunity to allow a dignified life to over 7 billion people. If none of us will be willing to take a step back, to take ten steps forward, nature will think about making us change our minds.
Greenwashing Vs Sustainability
In our overconsumption societies, it is always smart to raise a skeptical eyebrow when you hear organizations making claims about how they are "doing their part" in the quest to "save the Earth", although I believe that no one can "save" the Earth. , but we can all change it! Our lives are made up of actions that result from choices we often make based on the available information we have at hand. So when someone sees a tsunami of problems presented to them day by day by traditional media and now by social media, it is easy to assume that these problems are disconnected from us, that poverty or environmental problems are the result of bad political decisions, or even someone else's wrong choices. When companies invest more time and money in marketing their products or brands as "green" rather than actually doing the hard work to make sure it is sustainable - this is called greenwashing.
Cambridge Dictionary says greenwashing is designed "to make people believe your business is doing more to protect the environment than it actually is."
As an analogy, greenwashing is for companies like hugging trees is for people who say they care about the environment, it's a symbolic reference that has little real results. And even more, it only confuses the problem trying to be solved.
While some greenwashing is unintentional and stems from a lack of knowledge about what sustainability really is, it is often intentionally done through a wide range of marketing and PR initiatives. But the common denominator among all greenwashing is that not only is it misleading, it doesn't actually help further promote sustainable design or circular economy initiatives. Therefore, the environmental problems remain the same or, more likely, get worse, as greenwashing often sucks up airtime and directs well-meaning consumers on the wrong track.
One such classic case of greenwashing is that of the car giant Volkswagen, which admitted to cheating on emissions tests by equipping various vehicles with a device, a software capable of detecting when it was undergoing an emissions test, altering its performance to reduce it. . All of this was used for a marketing campaign that promoted low emissions. In truth, however, these engines emitted up to 40 times the allowable limit for nitric oxide pollutants.
There are countless other case studies across industries showing how NOT to do sustainability by uncovering more examples of greenwashing, such as meat mega-giant Tyson, who was arrested for false claims about antibiotic-free chickens. Or fossil fuel giant BP (which changed its name to Beyond Petroleum and put solar panels in their gas stations) and then was named for their bad green direction, and of course Coca-Cola, which it has been accused of greenwashing through claims about 'natural' sugar that it started marketing as a way to attract more health conscious consumers… In the not too distant future the list of greenwashing companies will grow severely.
For the "attentive" it is enough to note the advertisements during the pandemic, where sustainability messages increased by 700%. The majority of the commercials and speeches of CEOs and entrepreneurs in in-depth programs were and still are from companies that know nothing about the well-being of their employees or their customers, much less about the well-being of animals: sugars, oils, preservatives, metals, plastics, additives, starvation wages, CEOs who earn hundreds of times the salary of their subordinates, mobility, security, construction ...
There are many ways companies participate in greenwashing, from lying to making claims without scientific evidence. This is one of the reasons why life cycle thinking is such an important tool to know how to access and use when making sustainable design choices, because many people who get caught greenwashing often don't do it intentionally, but still more are misinformed. They end up accidentally making unfounded claims about environmental preferences, or worse still making assumptions about what is green or not based on environmental folklore or simple Google search!
Greenwashing is all about the wrong direction, showing one thing that distracts you from what's really going on. The main problem we see is that greenwashing takes up valuable space in the fight against important environmental issues such as climate change, ocean plastic pollution, air pollution, and global species extinction. The saddest thing is that many companies do it by accident, as they don't have the experience to know what's really good for the environment and what isn't.
We are approaching a critical time where more and more organizations and individuals are adopting sustainable design and zero-waste living practices and entire communities are banning disposable plastics. It is important to be able to quickly identify cases of greenwashing and replace them with truly sustainable practices both as a consumer and as a business (which JRU's Sustainability Master covers in more detail). Tools such as life cycle assessment allow organizations to understand what is happening when they make changes and to ensure that if they make claims about green credentials they are validated, not just assumed.
The great dilemma
Our dilemma is that we live in a finite world, but we behave as if it is inexhaustible. For a long time, we have ignored the side effects of technological progress, hidden the concomitants of constant growth, followed the instruction "multiply and subjugate the Earth". In just 200 years, the world population has grown from 900 million to nearly 8,000 million people. By 2100, according to the United Nations, approximately 10,000 - 11,000 million people will live on our Earth. We have continued to think as if there are still few people on earth like 200 years ago.
The six global risks in the coming years that are highest in terms of probability are:
• Extreme weather events with severe damage to property, infrastructure and human life.
• Governments and businesses fail to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
• Environmental damage and man-made disasters.
• Great loss of biodiversity and collapse of ecosystems with irreversible consequences for the environment, leading to a serious depletion of resources for humanity and industry.
• Large natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms.
• Increasingly frequent global pandemics.
This is a time of abundant opportunity.
We can all be changemakers in considering and designing sustainable outcomes in the world around us that influence systemic well-being: socially, economically and environmentally. When we frame sustainability as a practice that helps us create a future we are excited to live in, we generate optimism about solving complex problems. Becoming agents of change combined with creative thinking, knowledge of systems and life cycle thinking and a foundation built on what sustainable design really looks like in practice, and we will have tangible results that are positively disrupting the status quo and influencing change. . The key here is that more people embrace the tools of change, not only follow trends, but are willing to do the work to understand what needs to change.
What must companies do to achieve corporate sustainability?
This will be the subject of future articles.
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