Ask the Experts: Sustainability

Bethany Patten is a Lecturer and Senior Associate Director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan School of Management. The Sustainability Initiative educates and empowers leaders to take action so humans and nature can thrive for generations to come.

Could you define sustainability for us?

Sustainability is the healthy alignment between societies and the environment to meet the needs of the economy.

What are some factors people can look for to identify businesses that are committed to sustainability?

There are 3 main questions I ask to determine whether a company is doing good in the world:

  1. Is the company telling a true story about their impact in the world? For example, if a company is talking about trash, but their biggest impact on the world is on the electric grid, something is amiss.
  2. Are they setting goals and targets to become a more sustainable business? Are they achieving those goals, or at least making head way?
  3. And are they working with other companies to influence policy makers on these issues? We really underestimate the power that a group of  companies can have when they come together to influence policy.

What are some businesses that are committed to sustainable business practices that people may not know about?

You might not know the Gap devotes a lot of time to figuring out how to divert clothing from landfills, and how to recycle things like polyester and cotton. Athleta brand especially has made a huge commitment to sustainability. You can see it all over their products, in their catalogues, and online.

Another great example is Major League Baseball. MLB cares a lot about sustainability. The biggest impact it makes on the earth is their trash. So each park is working to reduce the amount of trash that goes to landfills and increase their recycling rate.

Besides buying products and services from business committed to sustainable business practices, what are other ways people can encourage brands to look for sustainable solutions?

One of the best things people can do is say to a company “I want my product to be durable and last for a long time.” But, it’s also critical that we get to the root of the problem. We need to consume less.

Thanks, Bethany! Visit the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative for more information on sustainability education and businesses.