The Essence of Sustainability

What exactly does “sustainable” mean, I wondered, so I sought out its definition.

Not wanting to turn and grab the big, heavy "Web" on my desk, I instead opted to check Webster’s online dictionary, which quickly presented the meaning in its simpliest terms:

  1. Able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
  2. Involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
  3. Able to last or continue for a long time

That pretty much nailed its; the essence of what’s meant when we talk about building sustainable local and global communities.

What’s not so simple is the complicated world we live in and the myriad challenges we face in our quest as responsible citizens and effective stewards of the planet.

When I hear the word sustainable, my first thoughts head straight for the environment, or the natural world we live in. However, there’s more to it than that. Environment incorporates the surroundings or conditions in which we live, along with animals and plants, and that’s also where the three pillars of sustainability come into play.

The three pillars, sometimes referred to as facets, include the environmental, as well as the economic and social aspects of our lives. Together, they complete a triumvirate that comprises our sustainability problem and also challenges our critical assessment of how to achieve balanced economic development, social development and environmental protection.

Moreover, sustainability suggests implicit responsibility and ongoing debate that aspire to bring about positive change and impact on global ecosystems, world economies, political and social justice, and cultural vitality.

There is no doubt it’s a tall order for everyone, and perhaps even more so for oft-maligned big business.

It’s at this point I concede that the catalyst to better understand the context of sustainable -- and not just express it willy-nilly -- was a press release from The Conference Board, a global, independent business membership and research association working in the public interest.

The organization published The Seven Pillars of Sustainability Leadership, a guide for overcoming sustainability obstacles built on the experience of senior executives who have addressed the sustainability imperative for the world's leading organizations.

From a corporate perspective, strategies come down to seven decisive practices and principles, all touching on the three pillars of sustainability:

  1. A company’s board of directors should be actively engaged on sustainability issues
  2. The CEO and C-suite champion sustainability
  3. Sustainability is embedded into strategic planning
  4. Sustainability goals are strategic, ambitious, and long term
  5. Executive compensation is tied to sustainability performance Sustainability
  6. Sustainability is part of the innovation process
  7. Sustainability is woven into company reporting and engagement

It’s not the first and it won’t be the last guide to best practices and leadership regarding sustainability, but it does continue the discussion and provokes critical thinking to build a sustainable future for current and future generations.

In the end, it’s about education and our will to continue learning and be responsive.

Education provides people with the resources to better understand sustainability, as well as the consequences of their actions with respect to the planet, its people and profits.

They’re all connected and the essence of our future.

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