A good place to start when talking about sustainability is to define it. What does it mean to you? What does it mean to people in your organisation? Too often, sustainability is used as a shorthand, without consideration for what it actually stands for.
The most widely used definition of sustainable development is the one coined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission):
“forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
This is a good starting point. But for me it lacks the ‘wow’ factor, it sounds like it was written by committee. It is not going to inspire. Whereas the definition for sustainability from Forum for the Future is definitely more inspirational:
“A dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways that simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems.”
I like this definition because it makes explicit the fact that we are dependent on the earth, so we better look after it, whilst making the link to all people realising their potential – we (collectively) will have a better life if we (collectively) take care of the environment. There is an aspirational element rather than just ‘we should do this because we must’.
I had a go at writing my own definition, and this is what I arrived at:
“Sustainability is a balance between the financial, human, and environmental. It is about living your values and acting with integrity, responsibility and generosity. It is about being in a community of discussion, dialogue and action – because no person or company is an island and everything is interconnected.”
Ultimately, the definition of sustainability in your organisation needs to reflect the values of your organisation and your culture. But if we want to place sustainability centre stage in companies, then why not open up the debate to employees? Ask what it means to them, ask them what their vision of a sustainable future is. By engaging with employees on a level of personal values and having this conversation, this will begin to create a platform for organisations to shift to a mindset of sustainability that is truly embedded in the organisation.
What’s your definition of sustainability? Share it here.