Sustainability -- Beyond Definition
Dialogue about sustainability usually covers definitions of sustainability beginning with the Brundtland original definition in 2987.
<<to be developed somewhat>>
However, a much richer understanding of the sustainability challenge and the requirements for an effective reponse is available by reviewing the challenge historically from environmental, economic, and organizational learning perspectives. Although it is an investment in reading and study, we are fortunate to have three great synthesizers presenting an integrative understanding of these overlapping perspectives, as described below.
Lester Brown, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, book (free PDF or buy), movie (free web stream, 1.5 hours), video interview (free, 30 mins). Brown presents the environmental case and argues for a massive global mobilization. Excellent for deepening your understanding of the environmental dimension.
Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, makes the security+env+business+American spirit case for sustainability. Very synthetic, very integrative. Quite a worthwhile tour de force of surprising foreign policy, political, economic, and environmental intersections. Ultimately Freidman argues for a Code Green mobilization of America to reinvent not only the economy but the spirit and identity of innovation and community that made America the world leader for the past 200+ years. Freidman adds the historic dimension, characterizing sustainability as an epochal change from the old industrial economy to the new Climate/Energy era. This is 99% of the economic argument for sustainability, as in sustainability is a platform/engine/DNA for the innovation required to create a wildly more prosperous and abundant regenerative, restorative economy and society. It’s missing a few ingrediants, but they won’t be missed by most people.
Peter Senge, et. al., The Necessary Revolution, illuminates the organizational learning dimension of sustainability. He does this by telling the stories of a handful of companies and communities he has worked with over the past 20 years. These businesses recognized the “sustainability” writing on the wall in the early 1990s, regarding the economic threats and opportunities presented, and began a slow transformation of their organizations which became known as the business sustainability arena. More than window dressing and corporate responsibility, these firms undertook a revolution, and transformation in their organizations, the way they do business, and the very notion of business itself to find the new route to a regenerative economy and society. Organizational learning is about orchestrating the difficult conversations required to make the shifts in mental models that underlie any authentic movement towards sustainability and successful on-going innovation required to achieve it. Senge provides a useful big concept in understanding sustainability as about the transition from the industrial “bubble” economy created over the past 200 years to a regenerative economy. After all, this is the primary point of ecological footprint. Humanity is consuming 1.5 times the resource/life support capacity of the planet, forecast to increase to 2 by 2030. This is the very definition of a bubble economy, one that is spending now, what it does not have in the future. It can only end badly and soon without a transition to a regenerative economy. The organizational learning principles is one set of essential tools and skills for sustainability success.