“Sustainability” used to be one of those words bandied around by businesses to show how hip and how current they are with business trends. It is unfortunate that over time the word has taken on increasingly complicated jargon and definitions, so much so that if an ordinary person were to read an article on sustainability, they would be wondering if they got the concept in the first place.
What Makes a Human Sustainable?
I’m going to put forward a simple definition. Let me start by taking it down to the micro level. What does it take for a human being to be sustainable? I’ll be a little controversial here and say that she just needs to be healthy. So, eating right and exercising right, staying away from processed foods and products, this makes a human being sustainable.
Simple, right? By eating and drinking correctly, a human being consumes stuff that is good for her. Natural foods, as opposed to processed foods, on the whole tend to be more environmentally friendly, emit less pollution during their production cycle, cause less suffering for the animals, etc.
All this is pretty sustainable living, not only for the individual in question but for the environment and for society.
By exercising frequently, you build and maintain a sustainable body, and require less pharmaceutical products (thereby again contributing less to the manufacturing process). If you exercise outdoors, you are more likely to develop a better appreciation for the environment and environmental issues.
This kind of lifestyle has become so popular in certain quarters that if you do a Google search on “Paleo”, you’ll find heaps of people who have eschewed modern lifestyles while living in the modern world. They make their own soaps, detergents, dental hygiene products, shampoos, etc.
They grow their own vegetables and fruits and some even hunt their own game. In the meantime, they go to the office like you or me, but perhaps they walk, cycle or even run. I can’t think of a better form of sustainable living.
In the meantime, you might find contemporary yogis and yoginis depending more and more on natural oils rather than detergents; herbs and spices rather than MSG and salt; natural 100% cotton or rubber products than synthetic hybrids. This also is a form of sustainable living.
Alright, no one says we should do all this. In fact, to run, cycle or walk to work in urban Malaysia would decrease one’s life sustainability index to zero. But that is what we are talking about when we talk about sustainability.
Why is Health Not Prioritised?
So why is health so low on the Malaysian businesses’ list of sustainability priorities? Two of the greatest components of health are fitness and nutrition, and yet we see overweight company CEOs incapable of climbing up one flight of stairs without huffing and puffing. Is that a sustainable human body? How is a business to be sustainable if its leaders are incapable of sustaining their own bodies?
I put forward that Malaysian business leaders need to, first, consider their own health and wellbeing; second, set an example for their own people, and then set an example for the community. Thereafter, opportunities need to be afforded both internally and externally.
While we might try to do great things for the environment, what is the point with a creaking deteriorating community of human bodies within it? In fact, newspapers have reported that one in six Malaysian urban couples have difficulty starting a family. Doctors interviewed stated that stress and unhealthy lifestyles (including obesity as well as being underweight) were the main causes. How can we be sustainable when we can’t even procreate?
So what does it really mean for us – as businesses, communities and as individuals – to be sustainable? To me, it just means to be healthy. If we make healthful choices, along the way, the environment, the community, the people will benefit.
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