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Seventh Generation is working to create more and more products that are sustainable, so it makes sense for consumers to stop and ask, "What do you mean by a sustainable product?" and, "Is it possible to produce products from plants in a sustainable way?"
According to the World Commission on Environment and Development, a sustainable product is one that meets the needs and aspirations of one generation without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and aspirations.
Since the products we make require both energy and material, how is Seventh Generation able to use resources today without reducing their availability in the future? The answer becomes clear if we simply take a giant step back to where we can see Spaceship Earth beautifully suspended in the darkness of space.
Figure 1, Spaceship Earth
Except for an occasional meteor or comet, the only thing reaching Earth on a regular basis is sunlight. There's no cosmic source of air, no universal river of water, no conveyor belt of minerals supplying the planet. The resources we have today are the ones that were here 4½ billion years ago when Earth was formed, and they are the ones that will be here a billion years in the future. Matter is not being created or destroyed, though it may be changed from one form to another.
Even with a fixed supply of materials, Nature has sustained life on earth for 4 billion years, meeting the needs of each new generation by using and reusing the same materials over and over again. If we take a lesson from Nature and make products from materials that have been used before, and design the products so their materials can be used again, we will have come a long way toward increasing our quality of life without challenging the ability of future generations to increase their quality of life as well.
One example of how Seventh Generation designs more sustainable products is our choice of plants, not petroleum, for ingredients. Plants are made from 4-billion-year-old carbon that has been cycled from carbon dioxide in the air to plants, to animals, and back to carbon dioxide in the air. When Seventh Generation makes a product with a plant-based (biobased) ingredient, we're borrowing carbon from the carbon cycle. But it isn't enough that we make our product ingredients from biobased materials. Those biobased materials must also be designed to degrade back to carbon dioxide (biodegrade). When the ingredient biodegrades, it is being returned to the carbon cycle, ready for reuse as a plant, animal, or perhaps another Seventh Generation product.
Figure 2, The Carbon Cycle
By working with Nature's cycles, Seventh Generation is caring today for the next seven generations – and beyond.