It is the holiday season, and it is the time for gift giving. This year, I have decided to give myself a gift. For my gift, I’ve decided to attempt to define sustainability for myself. What do I mean what I say I am interested in “sustainability”? Inquiring minds including mine might want to know (and not just those inquiring minds who read tabloid media). So I gave myself a deadline of Christmas day to create a personal definition of sustainability. This also allows a full week for my personalized definition to sink in before the New Year of 2009 begins for real. That way I can start with New Year looking for ways to implement my brand new definition.
It turns out that I actually need a personalized definition because there is no standard definition of sustainability. I guess a standard definition is one that everyone agrees on, kind of like red traffic lights mean stop.
A good place to start is the “triple bottom line” concept. The Triple Bottom Line concept is People, Planet, and Profit. A growing number of businesses are evaluating their ability to not just maximize their own profits. They are also measuring their impact upon the planet, and also on how they support their various stakeholders—customers, employees, investors, suppliers, communities, etc. That is a very good model, and if more businesses did that I think we would be much better off. There is more to life than money, and the triple bottom line idea reflects that. Ask any entrepreneur if they derive satisfaction from their business beyond the profit/loss number and I’ll bet that a great majority would respond with a resounding yes. If entrepreneurs can, why can’t their organizations also?
However, I also wanted a broader definition of sustainability. I found one in a surprising place—Whistler Canada—the home of one of the best ski resorts in the world. They have a Whistler 2020 sustainability plan, which I paraphrase from here:
The Earth is a system, and natural cycles are essential to the health of this system. Sustainability is about natural cycles running in perpetuity. We can help maintain these natural cycles by 1) reducing the amount of natural resources we need to extract from the Earth in the first place, 2) using less artificial substances and chemicals as we can, 3) preserving the open land and natural environment which is left, and 4) proactively attempting to refrain from exploiting the providers and suppliers of our goods and services. (Website:
I like both of these perspectives individually. I also like the combination of the economic and human perspective (the triple bottom line) paired with the implicitly spiritual one (System Earth). So my gift to myself has become a way to not only incorporate environmental and community impacts into my buying and lifestyle decisions, but also to experience some potential for spiritual understanding while doing so. Who knew?