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Ask a Sustainability Consultant: What is Sustainability?

The SSC Team December 1, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SCC archives. 

We have been providing sustainability consulting services to organizations worldwide for more than a decade. But, we still find that the sustainability journey is just beginning for many. Here is a post from our archives helping define sustainability. Although the videos are oldies-but-goodies, we still see the value in these straightforward explanations. 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUSTAINABILITY?

The answer is not always simple.  Some people think sustainability is a destination, some people think sustainability is a journey (we think it's a little bit of both).  Some people like lofty definitions, like these three: 

Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  (Brundtland Commission)

The possibility that human and other forms of life on earth will flourish forever. (John Ehrenfeld, Professor Emeritus. MIT"

Enough - for all - forever. (African Delegate to Johannesburg (Rio+10))

We like those definitions as a rallying call to inspire people to think broadly about sustainability.  But they aren't very helpful when it comes to actually putting sustainability into action.  

For that reason, we love The Natural Step's Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development.  It is based on a scientific consensus about how our world is unsustainable, and then provides four principles that eliminate those causes of unsustainability.  This video is a quick overview:

That's the concept of sustainability that we use here at Strategic Sustainability Consulting.  But it can still be kind of vague -- difficult to put into specific operation in part because a single organization operating within society cannot, on its own, do all of the things necessary to move society toward sustainability.  That's where sustainability strategy comes in.

This video is from Tim Nash of Strategic Sustainable Investments, who is a fellow alumni of the Strategic Sustainability graduate program at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden (where SSC president Jennifer Woofter also graduated).  It expounds on The Natural Step Framework, and explain how strategy becomes part of the process:

So that's it.  THAT is how we define sustainability.  We believe that these four system conditions provide the foundation upon which we create a sustainable society.  And an organization operating within our current unsustainable world must create a strategy to navigate through that funnel to maximize the value it delivers while minimizing the risk of hitting the "walls of the funnel".

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know in the comments.

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