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Sustainability is one of the topics of growing importance in today’s times in all aspects of organizational life. Corporations and businesses, old and new are increasingly considering means to strike a balance between their economic, social, ecological and cultural value creation in their business models. Having said that, economical gains take precedence for businesses, with utter disregard for social and ecological concerns a business is contributive to. With sustainable development goals set by the UN, many businesses accord with many goals however, they notoriously transgress against the cultural component of sustainable development. Garment workers are still underpaid, most don’t make their daily wages, many aren’t even paid at all. Culture, of which businesses ride on the coat-tails of, fails to ante up the least it’s expected to – fair wages for the workers. Pay Up Fashion, (read more here ) an organization that fights for the fair rights of garment workers, reports – ‘To date, the makers, many of them young women who barely earn enough to eat anything other than rice and chutney, are owed more than $50 million in what is considered one of the largest instances of wage theft in fashion history. This crisis impacts 400,000 garment makers.’ To which popular high street brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Levi’s, Nike, Target, Walmart had no response whatsoever. Other brands such as H&M, Zara, Marks & Spencer’s, to nam a few, responded with undertakings of making fair payments to the garment workers in India struggling to make ends meet, while the brands’ CEOs revel in comfort and luxury. This quite frankly is one of the most iniquitous liberties taken by businesses. And that liberty passes on to us consumers, who consume without questioning the origin or the veiled truths behind the products we consume so unconsciously. It’s an almost inescapable vicious circle of foolhardy supply and demand.


Largely speaking, such a situation has transpired because there’s little success made with the implementations of cultural policy with regards to cultural sustainability. The clear definition of the word culture with regards to sustainability is conveniently distorted due to lack of empirical information and knowledge on it. The conceptual understanding of cultural sustainability within the general framework of sustainable development remains vague. And consequently, the role of culture is poorly implemented. Culture considered as a key category contains characteristics such as societal practices, traditions, aesthetics, knowledge passed on from generations. These characteristics make use for political and social agendas through the education system, housing, employment etc. These contribute largely to the fabric of the society through the use of cultural thinking and ideals, in a nutshell, what we call culture. Specifically, many of culture’s practices are being used to create social integration and a sense of ‘self’ in the world. It’s rather appalling how something so fundamental is being undervalued to this extent.

Let’s canvas the Indian design virtuoso Sabyasachi’s collaboration with fast fashion giant H&M. It received a lot of backlash by the media and many sustainability advocates. It seemed like an attempt to greenwash, a term used when companies purposefully inflate their values of sustainability and use the term sustainability as a trump card to draw consumers in, portraying themselves as do-gooders. Sabyasachi banks on slow fashion and a collaboration with a brand like H&M, who stands in violation of labour policies, exploiting its garment workers and polluting the environment, seems rather atypical. Research published by the Clean Clothes Campaign, (read more here )in July 2021 found that H&M was one of the brands that “used” the COVID-19 crisis to cut workers’ wages, pushing them further into poverty during the global pandemic. Creative industries, be it fashion or art or architecture, has been known to be blatantly notorious for drawing inspiration from cultures with the clear intention of establishing profitable and scalable business models and being heedless toward the cultures that stoke business acumen in them.

According to Katriina Soini and Inger Bikeland’s research ‘Exploring the scientific discourse on – cultural sustainability’ (read more here) it relates to sustainable development (or to sustainability), has to do with maintaining cultural beliefs, cultural practices, heritage conservation, culture as its own entity, and the question of whether or not any given cultures will exist in the future. From cultural heritage to cultural and creative industries, culture is both an enabler and a driver of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

However, change at some level is being implemented by newer businesses for whom sustainability remains an integral part of their ethos. They’re paving a trailblazing path of sustainability for future generations and businesses to consider culture as a central component for sustainable development.

If you’re a growing business and intend to be a more culturally responsible outfit, you need to get on board now. This is how:

1. Initiate change at organization level first:

They say change begins at home first! Before taking the big leap aim at taking short hops that eventually lead to the bigger milestone. If you’re a founding member and if you’re reading this, start with yourself. Start reading up and researching about cultural sustainability and its impact on the society and businesses at large and at grassroot level, and how you as someone on the frontline can help contribute to bringing about a systemic change. Consequently, transfer the knowledge to your workforce and implement change at organizational level. Another note: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start small and slow but think big impact. Start with rethinking your organisation’s vision and mission statement. 


2. Fair employment and fair wages:

Your dream project of building an empire wouldn’t be possible without your workforce. They have their personal dreams, personal goals and plans and they deserve their time and effort’s worth. Be more involved and considerate of your workforce and their woes with respect to their demands. Also, consider employing them on the basis of a fair assessment of their skill sets with fair wages for the work they put in. Offer incentives and some sort of monetary rewards program and a fair appraisal from time to time. Paying minimum wages must be a mandate no matter what the circumstance.


3. Collaborate with like-minded businesses:

Be part of the larger conversation by coming into interaction with like-minded businesses. Align with each other on the basis of common practices and make it a norm to share best business practices. Components within cultural sustainability are layered and perspective driven. Broaden yours and your organisation’s perspective by the means of strategic collaborations. Together we can create a better and a more sustainable future for ourselves and the society.


4. Be more involved:

Definitions of sustainable growth and development change with passing time. What sustainable growth meant back in the 80s in juxtaposition with the current times, is incomparable! Your business needs to stay in the know to stay relevant and kicking. Stay informed and actively involved with the changing times. Take accountability and responsibility for the negative and positive cultural impact your business has, altogether.


5. Measure not just your economic success:

There are tools and methods in place to measure economic success of an organisation however, no framework to measure and evaluate one’s cultural sustainability quotient exists. As an organisation, take the initiative to build your own and pass it on to others. The most effective way to do this is through community centered research.


6. Be vocal, go local:

Being transparent and communicative about your progress with regards to your sustainable growth and development is what’s asked of you and your organisation right now. Many brands are very cryptic and indirect about their operations. Being transparent also builds brand credibility and shows your consumers and affiliates your contributions toward meeting the collective sustainable goals are noteworthy.

In conclusion, efforts toward a sustainable future demands the inclusion of all key pillars – environmental, social and economic, and to think of the future without cultural sustainability is a world without soul.

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