Strategic sustainability

The first step in tackling any issue is to understand what the problem is.

So what do we mean by ‘sustainability’?

The word is often bandied about vaguely, without defining what it really means.

But if you can’t define something clearly then you can’t create plans to achieve it.

So, what does the word ‘Sustainable’ mean, to you?

To me it seems sustainability is fundamentally about resources:

  • If we have enough resources to keep doing something, then we call that way of doing things ‘sustainable’
  • If the resources we need are running out, then that way of doing things becomes ‘unsustainable’

But sustainability is also about having alternatives: a key resource might be running low, but if we can switch to a different way of doing things (using other resources) then we can call ourselves ‘sustainable’ again.

Resources and Alternatives

Sustainability, then, is about resources and alternatives: the more resources we have, the more sustainable we are; the more alternative options we have to move forward, the more sustainable we are.

So if we want to create a sustainable world, or a sustainable business, we only have to do two things:

  • increase the level of available resources each year, and
  • increase the diversity of approaches (products, business models, cultures, …) each year

In a world where our resources are facing peak everything and where globalisation is synonymous with standardisation, this must seem bizarre and impossible.

But this is what sustainability is, so this is what our organisations and our economic system must deliver.

The good news is that this is precisely what Nature has been doing for the last four billion years. With (admittedly) one or two interruptions, year after year, Nature has been increasing the quantity and diversity of life on the planet.

Spiral of life image credit:

If Nature can achieve this by random variation, think how much better we can do if we copy Nature’s underlying principles.


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