What is Sustainability?

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Jun 17, 2015

Time to Read 4 Minutes

The definition of sustainability is a hotly debated on, and we weigh in on what sustainability actually is, according to our clients.

Regardless of whether you think sustainability is just a fad, or a buzzword, or the real deal, it's a word that's frequently thrown around. Unfortunately, many folks can't put their finger on what it really means to them, their organization, or the planet.

Sustainability is a word we've all heard. And, a lot of people, from clients to friends to even family members have asked me at one point or another, what's it all about? What's it mean? What's it involve? Is it just a fad?

People just want to know what is sustainability?

With as much as it's thrown around, and as often as you see it smeared on packaging and in corporate mission statements, it's understandable that some people are confused about what it truly means. So, in order to decipher what it means and stands for let's talk about it.

What is Sustainability?

What does sustainability mean to you?

You know the saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"? How a painting that looks ridiculous to you is a true work of art to someone else? Well, that's kind of like sustainability to us. Everyone seems to have a different definition and a different take on it.

There are a few classic definitions which we'll discuss below, but they always seem to come down to social responsibility on a corporate level.

Here are some of the definitions of sustainability:

The Brundtland Definition of Sustainability

This classic definition is all about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their own needs. This definition was created all the way back in 1987, proving that sustainability isn't just a new concept.

Triple Bottom Line or the Three P's

The concept of the Triple Bottom Line, or alternatively known as the 3 P's of sustainability, is purely about the intersections of the people, the planet, and profits (hence the 3 P's). People means the social aspects of an organizations operation, the planet means how an organization impacts our planet on an environmental level, and profit means a company can turn a profit. In other words, this definition identifies how a corporation can be socially responsible, have a minimal or positive impact on the environment and it's finite resources, and you are fiscally sound.

CERES Definition of Sustainability

This stands for the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies, which defines sustainability as "how environmental, social and economic considerations are integrated into corporate strategy and capital markets for the long term". This definition is pretty similar to the Triple Bottom Line definition, but it's referenced so often I had to include it.

Other Definitions of Sustainability

There are several other definitions as defined by government's, NGO's, and other various organizations, which I won't go into because the three I mentioned above are what I generally consider to be the big three.

What is Sustainability?

My Definition of Sustainability

To me, I view sustainability in a more historical context. Think about our planet.

Unless something out of this world happens, this is the only one we have, and our planet has very limited resources. In the grand scheme of things, man has only been on the planet for a short amount of time, but we're burning through resources and polluting the planet at a rapid rate.

When will things like peak oil kick in? How long until climate change starts seriously affecting our planet? Maybe in my lifetime, or my children's, or maybe it's already happened. The bottom line is, every passing day the world is changing, meaning our children will be inheriting a world that we're all changing, for better or worse.

If we find a miracle technology, like the secrets to alternative energies, food production to feed a world population that is exploding, resources to fuel an ever-increasing consumer-driven world, clean abundant water for everyone on the planet, or other similar ideas, then we can relax. But until then, we have to be vigilant and think about tomorrow.

We can't be sitting around and waiting for a fantasy solution. While a great piece of technology would help save the world, I don't think we ought to be banking our children's and grandchildren's futures on it.

I think businesses have a lot at stake. Sustainability is not a buzzword, it's a new baseline for how to conduct business. Want to do business on the world stage with the forward edge of the corporate world? Want consumer confidence, Wall Street's backing, and positive headlines? You'd better be behaving in a sustainable manner as a business, and be able to prove it. Otherwise, you're yesterday's news.

Personally, sustainability is like saving for a rainy day. If we keep using our resources and impacting our environment on a global scale, then pretty soon there'll be less fuel, less food, less water, less of everything. And that's not a rosy future - for any of us.

So really, what is sustainability? To me, it's a way of saying let's act in a responsible manner and give our children a better world than we inherited.

So while this may still leave you wondering exactly what sustainability is, it should at least give you a basic idea on the subject. To learn more, click here to contact us or give us a call at 609-693-8301 to discuss sustainability within your organization.


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