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In My Opinion: Sustainability—the Ultimate Win-Win

Michael Overstreet
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I recently attended a client’s vendor of the year ceremonies, during which I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting regarding sustainability. The client’s vice president of sales for the Wal-Mart account and the firm’s director of sourcing facilitated the meeting. The attendees were primarily from the packaging community.

As a former chemical industry manager and now a fragrance and natural products manager, I have seen the sustainability initiative cresting for a long time, and wonder why it has taken so long. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has become an economy built on consumerism. As technologies and innovations have increased the speed of change and lowered associated costs, we have slowly but surely become a disposable society. Now the challenge becomes more global as the rapidly developing manufacturing economies around the world vie for a share of Earth’s limited resource. Russia, China, India and Brazil continue to consume vast quantities of precious limited resources to develop their own economies and increase and improve the quality of life for their own citizens.

A colleague who attended the vendor presentation with me exclaimed, “This is brilliant!” The presenters effectively tied sustainability to the economic benefit of the program. Wal-Mart is touting annual estimated savings in the billions—yes, billions. But success is not going to be driven by corporations. God’s working capital, if you will, is the Earth’s resources, which are finite in their abundance. If this initiative is destined to succeed it will be due to the consumer, not the corporations, which, it may go without saying, are motivated by profit. Sustainability efforts are destined to succeed due to the moral obligation that we all have to this planet, not the economic implications.

In their book, Revolutionary Wealth, Alvin and Heidi Toffler point to the speed of change. The American institution of business is cruising along on an imaginary highway at 100 mph. Following close behind the lead group at 90 mph, “civil society”  is made up of nongovernmental grassroots organizations (NGOs). These groups are fast, flexible and organized, promoting their causes with great agility. They can run circles around huge corporations and government institutions. The third group, moving at 60 mph, is the American family, the makeup of which has changed considerably in the last 30 to 40 years. At 30 mph, the fourth group on the highway is labor unions. For half a century now, we have seen the U.S. workforce evolve—from the Industrial Age into the Knowledge Age—away from interchangeable to noninterchangeable skills. Union representation in the workforce has fallen steadily from 33% in 1955 to 12.5% today. In essence, one could argue that NGOs are replacing the unions in how consumers band together and promote their causes.
The Toflers’ summary of organizational velocity is a classic rationale as to why sustainability will be embraced, adopted and supported with consumer dollars. It’s because businesses and consumers, individually and in groups, are ahead of the institutions on the change curve.

As a savvy negotiator might suggest, the best business deals are generally consummated with a win-win mindset. The sustainability initiative can be described as the ultimate win-win initiative. As human beings, we all share one thing in common, regardless of our education, background or nationality—we all share just one Earth. While I am not about to begin a tirade on global warming or its political ramifications, I do wish to point out that each and every person who shares this earth potentially contributes to or detracts from our world’s future. Looking to find common denominators, we can easily relate to the human characteristics of mind, body and spirit, attributes targeted by the beauty industry each and every day. We can embrace those shared characteristics to achieve a win-win scenario for the planet.

It is time that we all step up and, as we consume and create consumers, take the proper responsibility before we are consumed by the perfect environmental storm.

Sustainability is here to stay, and we, as an industry, must look to contribute in such a way as to make a positive environmental impact while still addressing the needs of consumers worldwide. Let’s start today and make a change. God’s currency is running close to bankruptcy.
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