Sustainability for All of Us


Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter
and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column
Published by The Alternative,, and Natural Awakenings Milwaukee.

Source: Many Fortune 500 companies have a roadmap for sustainability and environmental mitigation.  There is a statistical correlation between economic reward and environmental stewardship. Some major corporations have designed a framework of institutional practices and procedures that limit risk and liabilities while maximizing their employment opportunities and profits. These same practices and procedures are tools that work for everyone.  In tough economic times, every edge to save resources should be a consideration.

To begin with, we have to understand what is true sustainability. Sustainability is the ability to endure and to maintain economically, environmentally, and socially our community in a whole.

I usually view sustainability as the balancing act between positive growth (growth behind economic drivers) and the relationship to preserve our environment for the long-term.  Sustainable modeling in the business community is mostly viewed as a company pulling itself up by its own boot straps while considering the people, community, and environment as a part of smart planning.

So how is it done?  Whether you are a small business, a medium-sized enterprise, or a large Fortune 500 company, the basics are all the same.  We all have an inherent responsibility to address these concerns, and it is only to our benefit to do so. Here are just some of the top 10 concerns to take into consideration both economically and environmentally when addressing sustainability and establishing visionary and profitable policies:

  1. Self-Responsibility and Self Choice. Sustainability begins with us as individuals when we take personal responsibility of our own movements and actions. Even the simplest of steps such as recycling in our own home or office, or limiting the amount of times we turn the ignition key of our vehicle to go just a mile down the street, is a matter of self-choice. It is a lifestyle, and it can be designed to what works for each of us as an individual. This is not a one-size-fits-all by any means; however, it does mean we choose to be aware of our environmental impact on the world around us. Everything that we choose has an impact on someone else, and with that comes the responsibility to choose a lifestyle that is economically and environmentally healthy.
  2. Information, News, and Education. Today, our media has become a three-ring circus of watered-down, smash and grab, shock news/entertainment. Consider the source in where economic and environmental projections and information come from. Many individuals make choices about economic and environmental concerns based on emotion, instead of facts and logic. When we know the score of the facts, we can then properly look at the situation.  What is truly your financial picture and how does that map into your carbon footprint? Internal modeling of your spending habits will demonstrate these liabilities. Where to go for the latest educational forums about how environment relates to economics? More and more news is moving to online, so you can say goodbye to print and hello to the digital media world.
  3. Embracing the Innovation. Innovation that provides an economic and environmental benefit needs to be captured and implemented. Solar and wind powered electric generation equipment, new technology in transportation, and green related products and services that provide a return on investment are everywhere.  Most of these creations are children of local inventors, enthusiasts who found a solution to an issue out of necessity.  In most recent years, home-grown technology spins off to home-grown financial investment, local job creation, and eventually, local community re-investment from profits of product sales. Also by utilizing innovative technology, there is a savings benefit, where businesses can use proceeds from energy discounts and savings for more valuable asset upgrades and employment strategies.
  4. Transportation. Alternative fuel powered vehicles, electric cars, and battery hybrid powered vehicles are a great vision for the future, but let’s face the reality—they just cost too much.  Most small business fleets cannot absorb the cost fast enough. All products and services involve some sort of vehicle and are one of the most common ways we get goods or services from point A to point B.  By incorporating innovative aftermarket technology or sharing services with another like business (who might not be a competitor) will allow for some of the cost of moving product to be minimized.
  5. Energy. Our society just cannot continue the track it is on in energy consumption. Infrastructure in the energy grid is severely compromised, and every inch of power line needed to deliver electric to the consumer is another inch that we have a loss of power on a grid system that should have gone the way of the dodo bird. Localized generation and smart grid technology utilizing software systems can have a profitable impact to mitigate loss, and provide the most energy over longer distances. Fossil fuels also add to the burden since an entire economic system is tied to how much a barrel of oil will cost today on the worldwide market. Take into consideration the small things one can do to save money on energy and fuel. A simple thing like walking one mile instead of the one mile drive, or turning off the light switch when someone is not in the room can have a huge effect if we all partake in those practices.  The majority of our hard-earned income goes to fuel in the tank or energy to run our home or office.
  6. Reverse Logistics and Supply Chain. Take a hard look at the real cost of that head of lettuce from California, from the standpoint of a consumer in New Jersey. The grower used water shipped from reservoirs from out of the state and harmful fertilizers that may have been trucked in from the south. Then it was wrapped in a plastic-sealed package that most of the time does not protect the vegetables’ freshness when it embarks on a three-week journey from the processing plant to the warehouse to the supermarket to your kitchen table.  Think about the cost of all the movements and actions that had to be in place for that lettuce to come to be in your household. Now think about this with every aspect of your business.  There you have it: loss of profit because of a long supply chain that occurs because we don’t study the impact of choices we make.  Buying locally supports local jobs.
  7. Jobs. Everyone climbs to the rooftops and yells the topic of jobs.  Sustainability’s very essence is about localized efforts to minimize negative environmental and economic impacts and increase productivity and profits.  When supply chains are shortened, we begin to add to the local employment rolls.  A study performed by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce demonstrated that if every small business in the state of New Jersey bought from local suppliers on a consistent basis, there would be 90,000 new jobs added to the books.  Buy local, support local.
  8. Community Engagement. Everyone wants the great idea, but not in their own backyard if it is going to disturb their private family gathering on a Sunday afternoon. Most plans of solar or wind power projects or green tech-clean tech manufacturing facilities usually fall victim to the public fear of the unknown.  Excite the community by having them included as a part of the process. The community will welcome your interest if they understand your project and you can clearly demonstrate value, economic impact, and self-policing practices that lessen environmental impact. The community can provide for workforce, marketing, and transit opportunities. It can also be a business’ largest nightmare if public relations and community process is not well thought out.

For those who ask, “What’s in it for me?” analysis will show at the end of the day how much money we are really saving. I look to create the win-win, even for people who never purchase a product from our company, or take the time out to understand what it is that we do. By sharing resources, our vendors and neighbors save money and create opportunity. By mass distribution on grass-roots levels, we revert to the good old days when we knew the name of the delivery man who dropped off our purchase from that catalog we got in the mail. The “Me Factor” is savings on the bottom line, with a greener, cleaner tomorrow; beginning with small steps, ending and beginning with the same person; me, the self, the individual.


Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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