I Don’t Think “Sustainability” Means What You Think it Means

Trash Talking
5 min readFeb 16, 2022

Businesses are scrambling to earn your business. As consumers place more importance on environmental causes, corporations will adopt the latest relevant buzzwords including “sustainability”, “renewable”, “green”, and “eco-friendly”, just to name a few.

The problem is, a word like “sustainable” can get easily hijacked by those who want to align the word with their business, instead of the other way around. When businesses try to push the eco-conscious talk without the eco-conscious walk, this is commonly known as “greenwashing”.

But the truth of the matter is, this eco stuff is complicated. Although some businesses may greenwash their narrative on purpose, I believe others do it unintentionally.

The “environment” consists of complex biospheres and chain reactions delicately balanced by Mother Nature herself. Claiming a product is “sustainable” or “green” is an oversimplification of a very complex issue.

A beauty company that incorporates recycled plastic into its products is not saving the world, they are just making their product marginally better. Yes, these small improvements are technically better, but they aren’t going to save the world. However, they are marketed that way. Why? Because it makes you feel like you are making a difference.

A selfish action suddenly becomes selfless. You aren’t buying this product for yourself…you’re buying it for the planet! Corporations know that as long as your purchase makes you feel like Captain America or Wonder Woman, you will be emboldened to make more purchases (and you may also pay a premium for it!)

Below, I will break down a commonly used buzzword that can be misleading when used incorrectly: sustainable.

What does “sustainable” even mean?

“Sustainable” is probably one of the most overly used buzzwords related to environmental health. I’ve noticed that everything and everyone has become “sustainable”. Every company has a sustainability page nowadays. Chevron, an oil and gas company, has a sustainability page. So do Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the companies with the most plastic ocean pollution for the 4th year in a row.