SUSTAINABILITY 101

If we had a dollar for each time someone has asked us, “What does sustainability really mean?”

It seems that the more you learn about sustainability the more confusing it can become. Sustainability touches upon everything in society, and it is all too easy to get lost amongst the many issues of our world, from biodiversity loss to energy needs to food security to poverty. The list is enormous, and yet it all comes down to something very simple – balance.


We often tend to view things from only one perspective. Environmentalists champion the preservation of the planet and its many wonders, businesses champion the need for a strong economy, and community advocates champion the need to take care of people. While it often seems that these interests are at irreconcilable odds with each side pitted against each other in a never-ending epic battle, the truth is that they all need each other. Should one “win,” the others suffer, ultimately leading the “winner” to suffer as well. For instance, if business is the only thing considered, the environment is plundered and communities exploited, eventually leading to the collapse of society and a grinding halt to business. At the same time, if the environment is the only thing considered and the use of natural resources is prohibited, businesses fail, communities crumble, and the environment loses out on a potentially positive species (yes, humans).​


The concept of Sustainable Development was created to reconcile these different interests. While some consider it to be merely a watering down of the environmentalist movement, it is in fact a very powerful concept. Sustainable Development was crafted by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) in order to bring the many different interest groups around the same table to strive for a common goal: “[to] meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Think of it this way – Sustainable Development is like the perfectly balanced marble in the graphic above. Should any of the key elements of our world (i.e. community, business, environment) be neglected or pushed above the others, the plane will tilt and the marble will fall. Each side desires a continuing, if not better, situation. No one desires a worse situation than before. However, if each side is to reach their goal, they must work together to make this happen. This is the point of sustainable development, and one that the many contributors on The Sustainable Leader take very seriously. While no one expects everyone to agree with each other all of the time, we are all willing to listen to – and take into account – the many different perspectives around the table.

We all have a common goal, and we will always be better together!