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ESG Goals and Sustainability Goals Aren’t Necessarily the Same

Let’s get something straight here:

ESG goals, or Environmental, Social, and Governance goals, are all about maximizing profits and minimizing “measurable” impacts as a result of a business. At least, on the surface it is. Behind the curtain, it is about making the lines and reports read well on paper for investors and customers, so that the same product can continue to be made. Even if that product itself might not be so sustainable in the first place.

Keep in mind, there is an immense amount of human capital, environmental service value, and inherent assumption that goes into estimating total impacts on the environment that a business can have. Traffic models and “reliable scientific records” can often be using models, or calculations and statistics that are decades out of date, or can be predicated on bad science, allowing for an over- or under estimation of things.

A company’s impact goes far beyond the carbon footprint in many cases because of “Compounding Environmental Impacts”, a term that tries to show the domino effect.

The idea is that a discarded product that takes X amount of carbon to create, can still cause damage to the environment after its use and disposal. Especially when we know the statistics about recycling; energy costs to recycle are often the reason that products don’t get recycled. For instance, it's easier to make a new laptop than it is to bring an old one up to the current speed, right? And even if you could, the trust that a customer has for a "new" versus a "refurbished" machine takes work to overcome.

Recycling is essential though. The materials that we’ve had our paws on over the years, even the plastic, is still good! It’s almost more of a matter of finding, implementing, and using a solution, even if it doesn't have popular “ESG goals”.

I guess what I’m saying is,

“for the greater good, and for the potential to restore and conserve vast landscapes that are destroyed as a result of other environmentally taxing practices, we must establish sustainable technologies rooted in a focus on longevity and equal access to a healthy planet for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But what’s more, environmental awareness and connection is essential too. I think the reason we have so many allergies and intolerances and issues with identity and mental health and depression is because we aren’t spending enough time genuinely connecting with nature.

I’m not talking about a sweaty and tiring hike through the desert, or an annoying conversation with an overly excited tour guide here. I’m talking about gardening and smelling the earth deeply; or learning about organisms and microbiology in your own yard by using microscopes or magnifiers. Learning about water uses and plant efficiency by growing a tree or some fruit; and then harvesting the literal fruits of you labor. These things can restore our faith and love of nature, provide us with a sense of security and purpose, and in turn, have compounding environmental, social, and governance impacts.

Image via Pexels - Tim Mossholder

Planting a fruit tree in an ESG report would look like a series of numbers and amortization rates; with estimated water usage, energy usage, cost benefit ratios, and information about liability and viewsheds. It misses the root of the issue -see i made another pun. Planting a tree is a service to the community because of more than what numerical data can show on a report. Restoring our soils or healthy ecosystems will benefit us in ways we can't imagine, and therefore, can't measure or predict.

Planting a tree because you want to have positive compounding environmental impacts is a different thing. It’s meaning can have much more value than what’s on paper (like my orange tree, and the delicious oranges I am so lucky to have). It makes a homemade afternoon smoothie that much cheaper, more sustainable, and it gives me a great reason to share with a few neighbors.

Sustainability is going to require a shift in culture and it might hurt. I expect inflation and costs for certain goods to keep getting worse. I expect that by the time new e-car sales are banned in CA by 2035, gas will be way more than $5.00 a gallon. I’m not excited about that…. but what I am excited for, is (hopefully) a hell of a lot more home grown food, a closer knit community, and less of a reason to drive at all…

Thanks for reading,

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