What is Sustainability?

Mark HarmonWhat is sustainability? That’s a question that I get asked over and over. When I’m asked that, I want to give them a good-old Jethro Gibbs whack to the back of their head. You know the one I’m talking about. Mark Harmon, NCIS, whacking Tony on the back of  his head whenever he says or does something stupid.

Yes, I know. I can’t walk around whacking people on the back of the head. Not really a sustainable activity for long-term employment.

So let’s start here:

Sustainable: adjective, Date:circa 1727. 1: capable of being sustained. 2a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>

Sustainability is the act of sustaining. Pretty simple. I believe that where the breakdown starts is that we can’t hold up sustainability and show it to the masses. It’s not a noun. We can go to the auto show and see the new models, we can walk through a department store touching and comparing items, you sit in a business meeting and you can see the numbers, but when it gets to sustainability it starts to fall apart. I’ve even heard people say, “Well, its like pornography. I’ll know it when I see it.”

Now the Gibbs back-of-the-head whack doesn’t seem so crazy does it!

It’s not that difficult! Sustainability, the act of sustaining is what we want to accomplish. Whether it is for a business, a non-profit, a  university or the planet. How we do this is through Sustainable Development.

You want to move forward, you  to want to improve, face it you want to develop yourself, your company and your community in a manner that allows them all to continue!

The World Commission on Environment and Development in its book Our Common Future, WCED 1987, also called the Brundtland Commission, defined Sustainable Development as development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Maybe this makes people feel that it is touchy-feely, but if you stop and think about it, it makes sense. If you are a CEO you have to meet the needs of your present generation, that means your employees, shareholders, stakeholders and customers. Your future generations are the future employees, shareholders, stakeholders and customers. Unless you want to be a one-hit wonder you better start thinking about the future and I don’t just mean next quarter.

Not really that tough to understand when you start looking at it through your everyday activities. Do you want to use it all up today or do you what to make sure that you have enough of whatever it is to enjoy, use or share tomorrow?

One thought on “What is Sustainability?

  1. Sustainability is an attitude and a mindset. That’s why I think people sometimes need a Gibbs dope slap. It’s hard to wrap your brain around the concept unless you practice it.

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