How can you show employees that sustainability is about more than environmental protection?

I missed answering this question: “How can you show employees that sustainability is about more than environmental protection?” during Startup Canada #StartupChats on Sustainability on Twitter. Other questions and answers can be viewed here. This answer deserved a blog post. See below.

Sustainability is not just about environmental protection

Sustainability is not just about long term environmental protection but it is a huge part of it as it is intertwined with economic and social outcomes. It is about businesses making a profit ( economic) and people’s health and well-being (social aspect) protected and enriched in the long term. It is not about today. It is about tomorrow and years to come. To break it down:

a. If a business is not making money, it cannot cover its operational cost, it is bound to shut down

b. If the people’s well-being is being affected by the business operations, products and services the staff and community will revolt, and it will have to change its policies or eventually be shut down.

c. If the environment is harmed, the health and livelihood of the people and other living things in the eco-system will be affected. People and nature will revolt — It’s already happening — but in this case, the polluting businesses haven’t all shut down, but some have or are changing their processes – a current political issue. More climate action is required.

What constitutes Sustainability?

Sustainability is giving consideration to your environmental (where you live or work/natural environment), social (health and well-being of the people) and economic (profit and loss) concerns during your decision-making process. Your business goal should be that the design and application of your business processes, services or products are based on the long term impact of these three concerns and that they are maintained at the level that does not cause problems long-term because their outcomes are intertwined.

Social Determinant of Health

The environmental conditions of where you live determines your health status. Even in the wealthiest countries, there are health inequalities between the rich and the poor. World Health Organization states that “this unequal distribution of health-damaging experiences is not in any sense a ‘natural’ phenomenon but is the result of a toxic combination of poor social policies, unfair economic arrangements [where the already well-off and healthy become even richer and the poor who are already more likely to be ill become even poorer], and bad politics.”

Example of an outcome when all aspects of sustainability are not considered – Grassy Narrow, Ontario

Grassy Narrows, a northern Ontario First Nation is a recent example of a bad outcome from an unsustainable business decision. Reed Paper between 1962-1972 decided to dispose of its mercury waste by the Wabigoon river (the lifeblood of the community) for economic reasons. Because of this action, the people of Grassy Narrows suffer from mercury poisoning and their fishes, river and land are all contaminated. Their health status was so bad that in 2017, the federal government of Canada decided to assist the community in building a care home for those suffering from mercury poisoning. Before 2017, the people had been reporting the issue to the government but nothing was done. As at June 2019, the care home still had not been completed. The people are still suffering severely. Unfortunately, more mercury dumpsites are still being found in Grassy Narrows, Ontario. Watch video below to hear from the people.

It is very important that all three aspects of sustainability are always addressed during any business decision making process. All over the world, majority of businesses consider only the economic aspect of their business and the question is always – ” Will it make me money?” and not – “Will it affect the people and the environment negatively?”

With climate change and the resulting extreme weather conditions happening, people are now assessing the need for environmental protection to be made priority because people are experiencing the serious social and economic impacts on themselves, their loved ones, their livelihood and their belongings.


About social determinants of health

Mercury care home in Grassy Narrows closer to reality after Ontario health official says doctor costs will be covered

Ontario knew about Grassy Narrows mercury site for decades, but kept it secret retrieved October 12, 2019 from

Second mercury dump site alleged near Grassy Narrows being probed by Ontario retrieved October 12, 2019 from

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