Sustainability has been defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This very general definition is probably the safest starting point in understanding sustainability as it can easily be accepted and applied to all businesses, cities and towns, and people around the world. However, as no two businesses, communities, or individuals operate with the same resources or under the same restrictions, each has a unique challenge to find a more tailored definition that may work within realistic goals. As such, the challenges and creation of sustainable goals may not be that different from any mission addressing long term solutions. The Natural Step states, “In order to understand what’s behind our sustainability challenges, we need to step back and look at the big picture, see the connections, identify the root causes of our problems and find the leverage points for change.” By simply exchanging sustainability for “operational” or “community” in the statement above and it can be used as a general philosophy to find long term solutions. Where many may fall short is with the inclusion of sustainability to its long term solutions or “big picture.” This is also where Better World Books may find itself ahead of the game.
At Better World Books there are inherent advantages and disadvantages to creating the most sustainable company possible. The greatest advantages have come from the very foundation that the company was built on. With its original business model constructed on and dependent upon sustainable practices, the challenges of BWB are how to expand its efforts rather than a large scale company-wide overhaul to begin efforts. As a direct result of BWB’s foundation and dedication to reusing and recycling books as well as to the promotion of literacy around the world, a company culture has been created that encourages an expansion of these efforts. Also, as it is still a small company, making improvements can be quickly accomplished with a conversation rather than through a long-winded bureaucratic process. The disadvantages? Better World Books is not a billion dollar company with unlimited resources. There is not a lot of opportunity for luxury sustainable improvements like solar paneling for example. Though it would be a landmark addition for the company, the costs as well as the geographic location suggest solar paneling may not be a practical sustainable option.
What does sustainability have to do with my “internship”? In short, I have the opportunity to approach projects, meetings, and “extracurricular” activities with an objective to improve the company’s efforts toward sustainability. Whether the improvements are big, small, or long term there are ample opportunities for me to have a positive influence or lead these efforts.
And how will the internship address the 4 System Conditions?
1. The systematic accumulation of materials from the earth’s crust.
I will have the opportunity to learn about the environmental impact and challenges presented from the gasoline use in the shipment and acquisition of books.
2. Reduce and eliminate our contribution to the systematic accumulation of substances produced by society.
I have to opportunity to address personal habits with the use of electricity around the warehouse. As electricity is provided by a nuclear waste producing power plant, this will address System Condition #2. While the subtle improvements may not get me nominated for a Nobel Prize, it will be a positive contribution none the less.
3. Reduce and eliminate our contribution to the ongoing physical degradation of nature.
As books tend to be made of trees and the reusing and recycling of books limits the destruction of trees, there are ample opportunities to address System Condition #3.
4. Reduce and eliminate our contribution to conditions that systematically undermine people’s ability to meet their basic needs.
As mentioned above, one of the main objectives of BWB is to promote literacy around the world. Given the commitment of the company to share profits with literacy programs, any positive contribution I make towards company success is a contribution to funding literacy programs.