Sustainability — Don’t let the definition kill us
What is your definition of ‘sustainability’? As of the day this is written, 30th August 2019, there’s never been a better time to clarify what this means to you and to the environment. Why this day? With the Amazon burning (a threat to the world’s lungs), as well as environmental policy impact of a looming Brexit, announcements the day before of further environmental protection policy rollback by the US, impacts of climate change literally manifesting daily…the list goes on. You only had to turn on the news.
I’ve faced the complexity of semantics through years of Digital Transformation consultancy. The word ‘digital’ became as widespread as each individual’s varied definition of it. I could ask a conference room full of people their definition of digital and each would have their own take on it. The same now goes for the mainstream word ‘sustainability’.
We do not have the luxury of debating different views and perspectives any longer. We can’t lose momentum for doing something about sustainability by getting bogged down in what it is and what it means for whom.
Basically, sustainability is the future. Full stop.
Yes, of course it has three pillars: environmental, social and economic. The best current application of these in action is the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 that break out into goals and targets around planet, people and prosperity. But, if we are talking either about the planet, people or prosperity, it’s basically the sustainable, endurable future of those things.
It’s an agenda with urgency.
Even taking specific ‘corporate sustainability’, which is essentially companies incorporating social, environmental, as well as economic, value into core strategy and operations, it’s about long-term corporate survival. Companies NOT addressing sustainability today are, thankfully becoming fewer and far between. If they’re not, let’s see how they get on with the rise of socially responsible investing (SRI), if they want investment and brand reputation, if they want customers! Sustainability again is quite simply the ‘future’ if companies want to stay in business. A triple bottom line — TBL (people, planet, profit) is becoming the only bottom line.
Just like the days when I heard thousands of personal definitions of ‘digital’ — being online, mobile, social media, collaboration platforms, etc., I often guided clients to boil it down to one key element — connection. Digital transformation is about new ways of connection. New ways of connecting businesses with their customers. New ways of connecting governments with their citizens. New ways of connecting between ourselves inside and outside the workplace. Now, we can use those new ways of connection for the next wave of human and business evolution, which is Sustainability Transformation.
But before we get into the detail of what, where, how (we all know the why), let’s not get lost in a multitude of definitions.
Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. In other words, we need to develop the sustainable models necessary for both the human race and planet Earth to survive and we need to meet the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of future generations. Basically, sustainability is defined as ‘our future’. Full stop.