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Sustainability is dead

Here’s what we know today; billions of people, our respective cultures, and assets collectively representing hundreds of trillions of dollars, are at significant risk due to climate change. People, companies, and governments across the board have long lauded ‘sustainability’ as the ultimate defense to global warming’s onslaught.

What if we took a more pragmatic approach?

The wild unruly beast of consumerism has long copped a large portion of the blame in dinner table sustainability debates. And rightly so, in many ways. We’re choosing to cruise around in massive chevrolets, constantly forgetting our Kiwi-printed tote bags on supermarket runs, and making a series of sub-par climate decisions on a daily basis.  But, I would argue, consumerism is actually a pretty incredible engine for change. Like it or not, the world is sold on it and it’s only speeding up. So why fight when you can harness?

Consider your carbon footprint on any given weekend. Last Saturday you might have grabbed a takeaway flat white, packed a pair of dubiously manufactured board shorts in your duffle and hopped in the car for a beachy weekend away.

Traditionally these all add a little to climate change, collectively getting us to where we are now. That’s just how it works and honestly, we can do better. I LOVE grabbing a flat white and going for a drive and I HATE feeling guilty about it (Keep Cup and Electric Audi or not).

These little day-to-day battles are how we view sustainability today. Sustainability at its essential premise, maintaining the environment and actively preventing its decline, is like walking into a fight you know you’re going to lose. 

Sustainability is not, and probably never was, the answer to reach stretched global carbon reduction goals, or the magic buzzword to build the perfect world around.

Enter regenerative business. With this model, every one of our little actions can each have the opportunity to make the world just a little better, putting consumerism to work.

People are growing tired of the middling results from half-baked “sustainability” lip service. And there are some homegrown examples of companies making some very real strides to capture this market.

Using products with a climate positive objective, the same weekend scenario described before, can leave the environment better off. These can be through a scientific approach, where the purchasing decisions are actually removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, or regional undertakings, where the consumer choices can directly benefit the local environment. For example, the coffee you grab on the way out can help protect rainforests, proceeds from the money spent on your duffel bag can be used to replant our country’s beautiful waterways, and with a Mevo membership, you can go one step further and actually suck carbon out of the atmosphere with every Km you drive.

But it can’t just be small companies that take this approach. This shift needs to be undertaken by behemoth companies that keep our world running and provide the majority of the capital.

What local companies like Mevo, duffle&co, Green Cabs, and many others are trying to do is beyond sustainable, it’s regenerative. We aim to add value to people’s lives, and the world around us, in a way that they are more than happy to pay for.

Ultimately, if we can get larger businesses to sing this same song, and consumer demand forces it, then regenerative business can become the mainstream. In a world built by regenerative business, it’s all the little delightful actions that add up.

Erik Zydervelt is the founding director and CEO of Wellington’s on-demand electric car rental company, Mevo.co.nz

The ‘Can We Fix It?’ series, which looks at how we’re using innovation and ingenuity to try and solve some our thorniest problems, is brought to you by KiwibankKiwibank is passionate about the future of New Zealand, and about making Kiwis better off. They’re 100% Kiwi-owned, which means their profits stay right here in New Zealand.

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