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What does SUSTAINABILITY really mean?

May 26, 2009

This is the fundamental question, isn’t it? What does the word SUSTAINABILITY really mean? Three years ago, when I was in Grad School (for a Green MBA) the word ‘sustainability’ still got a little red 466391857_8e18ccedf4_osquiggly line under it every time I typed it into Word. This word that has come to be so meaningful to so many, wasn’t even a word (at least in Microsoft’s world) until last year!

If someone asked you to explain what sustainability means to a child (or an adult, for that matter), could you?

Unfortunately, you don’t often hear about what sustainability really is, and why the term itself is important. Instead, everyone wants to know:

What should we do?

How much money will it save me?

I recycle and buy organic food, isn’t that enough?

Green(washed) marketing will tell you that, ‘Simple choices will save us!’ and ‘Every small gesture matters!’ NBC is currently airing public service announcements with prime-time B-list celebrities making statements like, “I’m trying to use cloth bags at the market!” and, “Taking unused stuff out of your trunk will save you gas mileage!” NBC is seriously spending money telling people that taking your pet rock collection out of your trunk is all you need to do to go Green.

Instead of all the chatter, shouldn’t we be really talking about what it 2984714360_452d203350_bmeans, not what we did wrong (and how little we can do to fix it)? Sustainability is a simple concept. In 1987, the UN Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.)

In business terms, that translates to, “Doing business in such a way that does not compromise future generations’ ability to do the same.”

How do you feel about that? What’s the first thing that runs through your head after reading that statement? Is your first reaction to be wracked with guilt over the fact that you didn’t buy the recycled paper because it was $1.00 more? Or, do you think about whether it even matters? Do you wonder if we are even supposed to keep on truckin’ for another twenty thousand years?

There is no right answer.

There is only one way to look at sustainability:

We must be fearless.


We must not get bogged down in guilt, and we must not put our head in the sand and hope for brighter days. That means t hat today is a new day. Every day we have new choices to make and new opportinities to be leaders, along with new and inevitable opportunities to fall short.

As I climb down off of today’s soapbox, I would like to ask everyone reading a simple question:

What does SUSTAINABILITY mean to you? Please give it some thought and post a comment with your response. There is no right answer here…if sustainability means nutritious food for your family, or ending world hunger, I invite you to share why it’s important TO YOU to do your best to be green.

-illana

p.s. – Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog (button on left)….how else will you know when I have more genius material for you to read?!?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2009 10:32 pm

    That’s a good one. I’d say that ideally it would be living as a part of the ecosystem that one finds themselves a component of. Mankind has removed itself from the circle, ignoring the checks and balances that mother nature has put in place. And rather than see the effects of our own greed and excess within our own microcosm, we transfer those effects to other places where they can go unseen and unfelt by humanity even though they might be detrimental to other portions of the circle.

    And solving world hunger would not be a part of that equation, at least not for me. Like I said before, nature has checks and balances put in place, starvation is one of those controls. If the land cannot provide you with sustenance, then it cannot sustain you, therefore you are not living sustainably.

  2. May 29, 2009 9:20 am

    Your website looks really great. I took your quiz and learned a lot. I look forward to hearing more and getting your Newletter. Thanks for all your information and the great links and insight.

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