• Sincere state of sustainability

Sincere state of sustainability

Sincere state of sustainability

30 Apr 2021

I carefully read the article on ‘Sustainability’ written by my fellow columnist Erdal Güven last week.

Right after that, I took a look at the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) website to recall the ‘17 Sustainable Development Goals’ announced in September 2015 (I do not want to use fancy words like examined or investigated to describe what I did because these are quite simple goals that don’t require much examination).

Let’s see what they are.

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Well-being
  • Quality Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Reducing Inequality
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
  • Life On Land
  • Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • Partnerships for the Goals

I guess no sane person or institution would ever object to any of these 17 goals.

Then why am I laughing as I write these lines?

Think about it please.

How many brands that we know and follow closely are actually internalizing these purposes and undertake projects that serve them?

The finance sections and ad pages of so many newspapers are filled with social responsibility and sustainability project announcements by companies. Yet, sadly, we still read about the bad working conditions endured by the employees of the very same companies on the current affairs pages of the same newspapers.

Many companies advertise about ‘social responsibility’, pursue PR campaigns with insincere and hollow concepts, and publicize that they are proudly undertaking so and so cool projects that they will not follow through or are unsustainable.

When we investigate further, we realize that these people show a complete lack of analytical knowledge, and what’s worse is that they lack modesty.  I guess what they are after is newsworthiness.

There is no measurement because they cannot comprehend the difference in scale between the project they are (claim to be) undertaking and their company.

There is no sincerity, because, while they boast about their social responsibility projects, they don’t care about their own employees who are struggling.

They make campaigns about their social responsibility projects, but continue to use child labor without shame.

Shouldn’t a brand’s claims of social responsibility and sustainability start with their own employees for that brand to be considered an honest one?

Let’s look at this from the other side; shouldn’t a brand’s sustainability project be prepared from within, and with a spirit of collaboration for it to be implemented in a sincere manner?

Whether it is social responsibility or sustainability, I think these projects should be modest and these statements should be appropriate.

In other words, when terms such as ‘sustainability’ and ‘carbon footprint’ are being tossed around, the issue becomes completely irrelevant and incomprehensible for the ordinary people on the street.

In fact, well-intentioned people who say “C’mon, let’s do something” about an issue whose starting point is simply ‘humans’, don’t even know what to do and where to start with that particular issue.

What needs to be done is actually quite simple.

– First of all, everyone should make a modest definition of responsibility and sustainability for themselves.

– Then, each institution should protect these values in its own way.

– They should start with small goals, and as they succeed, they should expand on the number (and perhaps the size) of these internalized responsibilities.

Of course, there will be achievements and failures, but here it turns out that the thing that needs to be sustainable is to persistently continue with the efforts.

Let me give you examples from our own experiences, what we have achieved and where we have failed to clarify my point.

For example, what could our sustainability goals at MSA be?

We cannot stop the melting of Polar ice caps or revive extinct animals. Similarly, we cannot chase life on Mars just in case life on earth becomes impossible.

What can we do as MSA?

We can reduce our consumption of materials and/or energy, we can provide extra benefits to our employees, we can allocate budgets to support students or athletes from our annual profits, and etc.

As you can see, I listed the extra benefits we can create for our employees before the “cool aids” we can offer to people we do not know.

Here is a concrete and unsuccessful example:

In our workshops, we provide portioned products and materials to participants. This is both a great convenience for the participants and an important precautionary measure for avoiding product waste at MSA. Be that as it may, this measure results in an incredible amount of plastic container use. And no matter what we tried as MSA, we could not find a solution for this issue.

And we tried, and we tried.

– We mobilized our entire purchasing team with the belief that there would be a product geared for this, but unfortunately we could not find a cost effective, alternative product in the quantities that we would need for all our participants.

– As we were unable to find a readily available product, we considered developing this ‘not yet manufactured product’ with the assistance of our business partners or principal manufacturers across the country. They thought that there wouldn’t be much demand for such a product, which made the cost of production too high, and thus we couldn’t convince anyone to manufacture these containers.

I can’t help but wonder how many companies out there could be looking for a solution for these wasted plastic containers. If only we could join forces, who knows, maybe we could solve this thing. Consider this my call for proposals; let’s find a solution together.

We also have several tangible and successful examples, let me share a few of them.

Since our establishment (17 years ago), we have continued, in a very sustainable manner, to provide scholarships to our students, whether it is three or five of them. We were whimsical with the numbers so that it would be sustainable, and that we could continue this as a tradition for years. We go all around Turkey, looking for kids who are pursuing their passion (but we don’t go around boasting with newspaper ads about what we do; in fact we try to keep it quiet as much as we can). Sometimes we even urge our business partners sweetly so that they also chip in for these kids’ education.

Again in a highly sustainable manner, we have been carefully sorting our edible wastes after collecting them at a special point at the school every day in order to send them to animal shelters. We had predicted this in the early years, and had created a permanent culture and environment of accumulation within the school. But between you and me, I have to tell you that the shelters do not show the same courage and steadiness that we do. There are even those who refrain from coming over to pick up the food or retorting with a “You’re welcome to send it yourself” before hanging up, which causes the food to go to waste. That’s where our ‘animal lovers’ stand.

Years ago, we worked on an excellent project with Grohe, and we reduced all tap water consumption at school by around 30 percent. The bills speak for themselves. Save more, not less.

Two years ago, we joined forces with Grundig, a brand that has adopted the mission of raising consumer awareness for reducing food waste. Throughout the year, we do specific projects as well as informative exchanges on seasonal consumption, waste-free kitchens and energy savings to our workshop participants at the school, and to tens of thousands of kitchen enthusiasts via social media.

In the meantime, although a meticulously calculated food-purchasing regime is followed at the school for professional training, workshops and other activities, in some cases there still remain food supplies that are unusable. These supplies are then ‘spontaneously’ utilized by the instructor chefs and trainee students, and transformed into wonderfully creative meals at the MSA family cafeteria on a daily basis (I wish you could see it).

Again, with a few smart digital projects (surveys, participation documents, communication documents, etc.), we reduced our paper consumption by around 50 percent. Perhaps we haven’t yet saved a forest, but it’s safe to say that we have saved quite a lot of trees.

And now a project that’s just fresh from the oven: Food Knowledge is Basic Education. With this project, the MSA vision is to implement a nationwide education system in which basic food and proper nutrition knowledge is introduced during childhood and continued progressively throughout their education. Our aim is to help raise children who have basic food knowledge and proper cooking competence; children who are self-sufficient and inspire people around them with this competence wherever they go around the world.

Not bad, right? Here is one project that suits our discipline as well as our scope.

Although these are small steps, they can be acted on quickly, and as I have always said, for sustainability, we must start from ourselves, set feasible goals instead of unattainable ones, and develop these goals over time.

And lest we forget, I guess the only thing we have not succeeded in (I forgot to write about this above) is gender equality; we did a head count, and saw that there are 18 women and one male manager within MSA management.

I can add more examples, but our subject here is not MSA, it is doing things that are commensurate with our capabilities.

Whether we are referring to an individual or an institution, let me list the things that can be done with pleasure before I end my article.

– Let’s develop sustainability recipes that are appropriate for our scale.

– Let’s take care to undertake projects that exist as part of the DNA of the institution.

–  Let’s focus on what and how we can drive change in people’s lives, starting with our immediate environment.

– Let’s not harm other people or places when trying to produce benefits for someone. – Let’s position the perception of sustainability and responsibility as reachable goals in people’s minds.

– Let’s see what we can do at home, what we can do at work, what we can we do with NGOs.

– If we can, let’s incorporate this subject into the curriculum of educational institutions so that this consciousness can be applied inside our homes.

In the meantime, let the media decide how they can provide support that is sincere.

In the meantime, let the state see what it can do within its own means.

The author’s arrogance…

Do not try to clean the world; clean your home and its entrance, and the world will be spotless.