When you hear the word “sustainability” what do you think? Most people think “green” or “protecting our earth.” On a personal level though, it comes down how these thoughts are turned into the actions we take at home, at play, and at work. Do you shut off the lights when you leave a room? Do you pay attention to lawn watering bans in the summertime? Are you both recycling and looking for ways to reduce?

You also react to the obstacles business puts in front of you – layers of packaging for food products (a bag inside a box), understanding the chemical composition of products (VOCs in paint), and trying to guess if the latest marketing tactic is real or green washing. How you react to these obstacles is how you embrace your sustainable power!

It is the consumer who decides if a product or service is successful – simply by choosing to buy or walk on by… Do you consider the full impact in your buying decisions? For example, did you know that the transportation and distribution of some products can represent a larger carbon footprint than the manufacture and end of life disposition? That slogan “think global, buy local” has real merit. Yet, some people will still pay more money for specialty water from a tropical island – a product that is transported thousands of miles by boat, truck, and car before it makes it to your refrigerator. Have you considered these high carbon emitting steps it must go through before you can have a cool refreshing drink to carry with you? Will you still choose that option or will you purchase a filter for your tap and some reusable containers? Much of sustainability truly is your decision.

The power is truly yours; you decide what to buy and perhaps where to invest. The public awakening to sustainable business practices is beginning to level the playing field. Just as products become obsolete and new businesses grow rapidly due to new technology development, similar business decline and growth opportunities are happening as consumers use their sustainable buying power. The businesses that are engaging in sustainable practices are moving up while those that don’t remain stagnant or fall behind. Think about it; what products do you choose? What companies do you support or avoid?

People in this newly emerging sustainability field are working to standardize the calculation and publication of product LCAs (life cycle analysis) and carbon labels, similar to nutrition information you see now, may soon show up on the products you use. But until those are standard practice, what options do you have to educate yourself today? Of course, after “use your common sense,” the next answer is the Internet. Many businesses now report all of their sustainable efforts on-line and in annual reports. Just remember, it is a voluntary practice, so if you can’t find sustainability prominently shared on a business web-site… that tells you something as well.