A scientific term describing the dynamic balance of ecological systems – the term “sustainability”. Over the last 40 years or so since defined, it is not understood, or the meaning is misused. To appearances it is a similar problem for many terms like Demand Management, Energy Efficiency, Global Warming, Consistently, Resilience etc.
Posted on August 27, 2012 by co2land – The operative of ‘Consistently’, ‘Resilience’. Quote “Now a little more on why your methodology may be too narrow in its focus and it revolves around the word ‘Resilience’. According to the Decision Point, August 2012, Resilience is not about not changing as far as natural habitats are concerned – it is concerned with holding a system in exactly the same condition erodes resilience because the capacity to absorb disturbance is based on the system’s history of dealing with disturbances.”
Then we see a comment on Linkedin.com that many in the UK are now using ‘resilience’ as a substitute for ‘sustainability’ especially when taking in business/operational terms, and gets over the still widely held link that sustainability is just about the environment. They claim “resilience links the need for an organisation to look to becoming enduring, being able to project itself into the future and be able to ride the vulnerabilities and challenges of scarce resources, energy security, adapting to climate change, and including social and economic aspects. Resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Lovely, if it was perfect!
However, if you now look at why meanings change it could be enthusiasm at fault. Enthusiasm to be recognized and establish programs at the strategic level, and very little push actually comes from practitioners to bend the intended results. It follows that a strategic outcome is not always the path to a wanted result.
In a former role, some of us experienced that many government initiated ‘sustainability’ programs did not meet the ‘successful’ criteria, and that would be described as a ‘flawed’ program. The underlying issue would be determined that the program was not ‘robust’ enough. The move would then be to have a more robust means of measuring the success. You might have noticed we are no longer concerned with the problem of sustainability, but the measure. The means of ensuring it remains still long enough to guage success.
The effect is that policy continues and more and more metrics are being introduced, and becoming a place where subjectivity has no place and the need is to replace it with objectivity. You might see at this point it is ‘YES, MINISTER’, and when giving advice you would say ‘Challenging, but certainly quite feasible’. From this point on, there is now many ways that our terms that mean sustainability can be applied, and sit as a subset of the same term.
This is not saying all is wrong, many of the metrics are dealing with the social side of things and repositioning what might also be considered organisational boundaries into areas of influence that could do good. However, what is unfortunate, is the term “sustainability” (and many other well defined terms) becomes co-opted by business and politics and used to refer to all kinds of things that bear no relation to the triple bottom line or endurance over the long-term.
CO2Land org argues that diluting the meaning and confusing the general public this way could explain why people are easily led to believe the resources have been mis-used.
As further evidence of our position being shared. We quote: “This is because the term “sustainability” is not understood, and misused accordingly. A scientific term describing the dynamic balance of ecological systems in the 70s it was applied to economic systems by the WCED in 1987, and enhanced in later definitions to make clear its about leaving the world a better place for future generations (not the same place as it is now). As a green building advocate for nearly 30 years now, it has been important to me to distinguish between the process and the product. I doubt there are many “sustainable products” but we try, using a sustainability “lens” to do the best we can in designing products (from oatmeal to homes to manufacturing systems) that afford us environment, economic, and social benefit. This “systemic” lens is also known as integrated design, and the only way I know to achieve anything like the kind of future we crave for the greater good. This is so important to me that I am spending my “retirement” training and mentoring leaders in the sustainable building field in a systems approach to leadership — The Emerge Leadership Project. www.emergeleadership.net.
To balance the argument , as a good debate should, another view: http://alderspruce.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-we-love-greenwashing.html), “one of our most important jobs is to create healthy dialogues and allow people to discover their own meanings of sustainability. It is always my first step with clients, to help them define it for themselves and connect this definition to the definitions that might be different for other groups and societies.
I am sure the survey data backs up this response but exactly the same happened with Quality. Everyone followed the Toyota Model and we experienced BS5750, ISO 9000 etc. Over time the value of belonging to the club was eroded by spin and a watering down of the intensity of the standard. Sustainability isn’t easy – that is the point. Whatever you believe you can change the word for will, over time, suffer exactly the same apathy as the low hanging fruit is harvested. Surely these same highly experienced executives can find a way of innovating because one thing is clear – there is massive room for improvement.”
CO2Land org has the last word – we take particular note of “the club was eroded by spin and a watering down of the intensity of the standard” – that is our point.