What is Sustainability? Beyond going ‘green’!

sustainable development-approach-circles

Source: ConocoPhillips Company 2006 Sustainable Development Report

The pursuit of sustainability can mean many different things to different people. Most commonly it means trying to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Bruntland Commission).

Sustainability is more than environmental impacts – it means achieving long term prosperity for all. That is, it considers three domains of social, economic and environmental sustainability (as pictured).

For more on frameworks see: https://www.gettingtosustainability.com.au/about-sustainability/social-sustainability/

Global compact sdg ambition

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations has a framework of interest to all organisations including business – the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These clearly define the world we want — applying to all nations and leaving no one behind. The SDGs were finalised in September 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted a plan for achieving a better future for all — laying out a path over the next 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. Here’s how companies can play a role through the UN Global Compact and its Ten Principles. The Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact are derived from: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

Businesses can sign up to the Global Compact and raise ambition to address the SDGs.

Find out more here: https://www.unglobalcompact.org/take-action/sdg-ambition

Other ways of looking at sustainability

One way of looking at sustainability is by giving back to a depleted and vulnerable world through ‘Positive Development’ (as coined by Janis Birkeland). So it’s about trying to repair the living systems that humans have disrupted. The challenge is achieving this in a finite world and a growing population.

For a ten minute overview of what sustainability might mean in the business context, here is an interview with Adam Werbach for the Harvard Business Review:

Here’s a 21 minute Australian presentation about why sustainability is important. Nearer the end, the speaker explains why it’s important to use metrics to inform planning and measure progress. The speaker is Dr Badin Gibbes from The University of Queensland. This presentation was part of the 2011 Gold Coast Sustainability Forum, hosted by GreenBiz Check:

For more videos on sustainable development, visit the website for the Rio + 20 event in 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

For recommended reading refer to the resources page.

Australian author and leader, Ian Lowe helps to ‘join the dots’ about our finite world and how we might put together effective policies to reorient our economy, and communities towards sustainability. Here he presents a one hour presentation to the National Press Club on 29 May 2013.

Interestingly, Victoria’s Environment Protection Act 1970 – SECT 1B  has a Principle of integration of economic, social and environmental considerations stating:

  1. Sound environmental practices and procedures should be adopted as a basis
    for ecologically sustainable development for the benefit of all human beings
    and the environment.
  2. This requires the effective integration of economic, social and
    environmental considerations in decision making processes with the need to
    improve community well-being and the benefit of future generations.
  3. The measures adopted should be cost-effective and in proportion to the
    significance of the environmental problems being addressed.