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Sustainability: what’s in the shadows?

sustainability and ethosIn 1989, the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) articulated what has now become a widely accepted definition of of the word Sustainability: “[to meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The word is much used these days. In the business context, it is often used as an alternative for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), or even interchangeably with Triple Bottom Line (TBL). In any case, the set of three words used to cover the three issues normally implied are Profits-People-Planet, or Economy-Ecology-Equity.

It is widely considered that a sustainable business is one that will endure, maybe even for ever. I contend that this assumption is open to challenge. Many companies outlive their purpose. If they do, they should die, just as a person or a plant does.

Such a death is normal, not an aberration. However, just as with society, that does not automatically imply that its values need die when the body is gone. That is why my concept of sustainability includes the need for a company to have purpose. In the shadows of the current debate of business sustainability is the very ethos on which the aspiration rests.

Thus the three words, Economy-Ecology-Equity, become four: Ethos-Economy-Ecology-Equity. I believe that the whole sustainability movement is in the process of moving on. It will progressively be more than window dressing and the vitality of its use will be measured in intent as well as outcome.

PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit:

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