Already, sustainability has made a tremendous impact on our society. Although it may not look that way at first glance, it’s the small things that truly count and make the biggest difference in the long run. With this in mind, sustainability’s true impact on our society is not something that is bound to happen overnight. So, what is the actual payoff and when will we begin to see it?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the present impact sustainability has on our society and then head ten years into the future to see what a sustainability-centric world would look like only a decade from today.
Sustainability’s Impact on the Present
Already, sustainable initiatives affect multiple aspects of our society including transportation, waste, food, and energy. From food waste programs and waste reduction initiatives all the way to conserving energy at your facility and remote work programs, sustainability can be seen in every part of our modern world. But, how big of an impact does this really have on our environment and our carbon footprint as a whole?
Below are some of the biggest aspects of our society that sustainability affects, listed to outline the current impact sustainable initiatives have on our society and what that means for our world and its future.
Currently, roughly 1 in 7 people worldwide own a car. This number only continues to increase and, because of this, several sustainable initiatives have been put in place worldwide. One of the biggest initiatives is encouraging companies to incorporate remote work and alternative transportation into their business models.
According to Lifewire, here are just a few of the reports performed on remote work’s impact on the environment:
- TelCoa notes that if 32 million Americans who could work from home did so at least one day a week, 74 million gallons of gas could be saved, enough to go around the globe 51,000 times.
- The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) reports that telecommuting is part of a climate change solution because using electronics to telecommute saves 9 to 14 billion kilowatt-hours of energy each year.
- A review of the government's pilot "ecommute" program that ran from mid-2001 to early 2004 in five metropolitan areas concluded that a reduction of 25-tons per year in pollution could be achieved with only 4,500 telecommuters working at home on an average of 1.8 days per week.
- Even just one day of telecommuting could save 423,000 tons of greenhouse gas, according to the Telework Research Network.
- As reported on Information Week, the US Patent Office telework program in 2007 (consisting of 3,609 home workers) helped save over 613,000 gallons of gas, prevent 9,600 tons of carbon emissions, and save over $1.8 million annually in fuel costs. Other companies, such as Bell Canada and Cisco, report similar environmental benefits.
With these statistics, it’s no wonder that sustainability in the transportation industry is so important and prevalent today.
Currently, our world relies heavily on plastic and other unsustainable items that are extremely harmful to the environment. According to Our World in Data, plastic pollution in 2015 alone was over 381 million tonnes which equates to nearly the mass of two-thirds of the world population.
Another major item that is overused without a sustainable solution is paper. According to MES, “By 2020, paper mills will be producing 500 million tons of paper on an annual basis. This process is the third biggest air polluter in the industrial world.” The big reason for this is that sustainable options are not being put in place as often as they should be.
Currently, to combat these two major waste elements, companies are encouraging plastic alternatives, reusable items, and additional sustainable resources. The biggest plastic alternative currently out on the market is the plant-based plastic option. A great example of this is the PlantBottle that would ultimately biodegrade on its own and reduce plastic use significantly.
Similarly, when it comes to paper waste, sustainable alternatives provide an option that doesn’t try to abolish the usage of these items but, rather, change the way they are manufactured and presented to the populace. A great example of this is sustainable paper that goes straight from the rice fields to your office printer. These options are resourced from regions that rely on agriculture for their economic infrastructure and utilize sustainable cross-breeding to only create paper from trees that are capable of dealing with the demand. In this way, paper sustainability is already flourishing.
Although the average American thinks very little about food and the amount of food waste they create each year, the numbers are enough to shock anyone back into reality. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.”
The shocking part is that there are still people starving each and every day and, with this food waste alone, we could effectively feed 2 billion people worldwide. Considering that 795 million people are currently starving in our world, this means that our food waste alone could end world hunger.
Food waste initiatives have already been put in place by several major countries across the world and some have been highly successful. The main focus of these initiatives is to reduce the food a consumer buys to reduce the waste that comes with over-purchasing food. A great example of this is Denmark, which has already reduced its food waste by 25% in five years.
Another big topic in modern society is our energy usage and its environmental impact over time. Sustainable energy has been a goal of multiple major corporations and entities for years now, but how are they actually doing so far?
According to Energy Central, America is the leading country in energy waste with 58% of our energy being wasted each and every year. Some companies that have recognized this factor have started to implement sustainable energy resources into their business models in order to try and reduce this number significantly.
In fact, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “a 2009 UCS analysis found that a 25 percent [increase in sustainable energy alternatives] by 2025 would lower power plant CO2 emissions 277 million metric tons annually—the equivalent of the annual output from 70 typical (600 MW) new coal plants.”
With companies seeking to increase their dependence on sustainable energy even now, this means that carbon emissions in the energy industry could be reduced significantly in no time.
The Impact This Would Have on Our World 10 Years Later
With our current society’s sustainability initiatives fully outlined, let’s take a look at a world that is 100% sustainable and what that would mean in ten years’ time for our earth and humanity.
A truly sustainable society would reduce their gas emissions, oil use, and energy intake significantly. To do this, our society would need to rely on various alternative means of transportation including walking, bicycling, skating, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. These options would significantly reduce the environmental impact transportation has on our society and, in 10 years time, the results would be evident.
According to Eco Watch, transportation accounts for 27% of total US greenhouse gas emissions. Looking into the research they performed, you could essentially cut carbon emissions by 0.7 tons for every mid-sized car on the road each year. Considering that there are roughly 1 billion cars in the world and the average car size is medium, getting rid of just half of the cars on the road each year would reduce our carbon emissions by 700 million tons per year.
A fully sustainable society would essentially remove 7 billion tons of potential carbon emissions from our atmosphere in ten years time simply by removing half of the cars on the road.
As we discussed above, waste is a major problem in our society with both paper and plastic pollution significantly affecting our environment every year. However, in a perfect society where sustainability was common practice, both plastic and paper would have more sustainable options at hand for the masses.
Considering that the world is currently turning more toward reusable items and plant-based plastics, let’s look at the impact these would have on our world in ten years time.
Currently, Americans alone use over 50 billion water bottles a year. Since one reusable bottle saves roughly 1,460 water bottles a year, if every American switched to reusable bottles nationwide, we could effectively eliminate the need for plastic bottles altogether.
50 billion water bottles being eliminated from one country alone would reduce oil usage in production and transportation by 17 million barrels, and lead to a significant decrease in ocean pollution.
If every country did this, we could effectively clean our oceans, significantly reduce our landfill problems, reduce carbon emissions and oil reliance significantly, and encourage sustainable options like plant-based plastics.
Similarly, if paper were to become fully sustainable, paper manufacturing and production would be more helpful than harmful to the environment, support agriculture and the economy in foreign countries, and lead to planting more trees that are diverse, better bred, and helping air quality.
Considering that removing food waste would also solve world hunger, as well as the fact that one country was able to reduce their waste by 25% in five years, a fully sustainable society dedicated to food waste reduction would be able to cut their food waste in ten years with ease and ultimately help people that are starving worldwide. They would also be able to reduce the carbon emissions these wasted products emit in landfills each and every day.
Furthermore, with food waste no longer being an issue, restaurants, grocery stores, businesses, and the average consumer would be able to save money on food products, meaning the economy could become more stable and smaller farms could finally keep up with demand.
Finally, sustainable energy is already gaining traction in big business worldwide, but a fully sustainable society would rely on sustainable energy as a primary source of energy first and foremost. Our reliance on fossil fuels and coal would decrease significantly meaning that, in 10 years time, these industries would collapse, further helping the environment.
Without our dependence on these elements, we could focus our attention on what truly matters, such as conservation and social growth. We would be able to restore several species, help the environment, repair our oceans, fix our forests, and encourage healthy living for the future of our world as a whole.
In the end, sustainability may not be a silver bullet, but even by doing a small fraction of these idealistic initiatives in our current society, we could make the world a better place and improve our health as well as the health of our environment.