Sustainability is a word that has received a lot of attention over the past few years, and has prompted many businesses to consider it a part of their strategy going forward. The question in my mind is whether or not this represents a conscious choice to invest in the long term benefits of more sustainable practices, or to simply cash in on a short term fad, taking advantage of sustainability as a buzzword amongst prospective consumers. Although I cannot speak for organizations who employ sustainable practices, the broad consensus seems to be that sustainability is here to stay, and for a number of good reasons.
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions. Sustainability requires the reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands – also referred to as the “three pillars” of sustainability or (the 3 Es).
For one, the global energy crisis is very real, and will not go away with wishful thinking. Contrary to popular belief, we live on a planet of finite resources – an idea that seems to be at odds with the way most economies continue to operate in the modern day. The need for constant economic growth is an ideology that has led us astray from the simple truth that we must be mindful when consuming the resources that mother nature provides us. To put this more eloquently for a business savvy audience, we must now practice threshold management as a means to ensure we do not breach a point of no return.
Couple the above with the fact that the global population is increasing by nearly 74 million people per year, and it is easier to see the impacts of “unsustainability” on the individual. In fact, these impacts can already be witnessed in the dichotomy that separates life in developed and non-developed nations. Knowing that we are already exceeding resource consumption on a per capita basis – albeit, skewed towards North America, Western Europe, and Australia – a major change will be necessary if we are to maintain the same quality of living that we enjoy today.
Further to this, I’d like to highlight a line of thinking found in an earlier post. Today, more than ever, the individual is becoming empowered simply in the way that technology facilitates the voicing of his opinion. Eventually, like opinions pool, and begin to effect real change due to the ease with which they can reach stakeholders. This brings previously unrecognized issues into public consciousness, and forces organizations to respond if they are to maintain a positive image. In this day and age, image is everything, and isn’t so much determined by expensive ad campaigns as it is by popular consensus.
With all of this said, I can only hope that sustainability will continue to grow with public demand. What’s certain is that there is a definite need for sustainable practices if the human species is to flourish well into the foreseeable future. The traction that this area of business has gained in the last few years alone leads me to believe that it will stick around for some time to come. Being hailed as a megatrend, and compared to the likes of the quality revolution of the 70s & 80s, as well as the information technology revolution of more modern times, sustainability has firmly planted itself in the consciousness of the early twenty first century as it looks to evolve into something much more than a buzzword.