I haven’t until now trusted myself to publicly pose these questions, but here goes – Are there any sentiments to be shared on what appears to me to be a kind of hijack of the term “sustainability” by pretty much purely commercial interests – who I suspect really mean “business continuity” in their liberal use?
In the midst of so many flying narratives, the fundamental, essentially ecological grounding quality of the word “sustainability” seems to feature less and less prominently than it should. Neither social nor ecological implications of the said [value creating] activities is graced with simple mention, unless by the brute-force of regulation. Could it mean that my own sensibilities in this regard are growing keener or just that I’m somehow losing touch? And considering the framework of monetary value upon which our economies are built, the powers dedicated to the protection of such, the interplay between the shapers of market confidence and the exclusive crutch of maximizing share-value, our obsession with ‘growth’, fear of capital flight, fear generally, greed, gluttony, laziness and ignorance by choice, is it even possible?
Still, let’s not be too hard on ourselves – as at this date 30.09.2014, we can proudly say that by our progressive hands wildlife populations have been more than halved, in my half of a lifetime (52% reduction in 40 years – WWF & Zoological Society of London) It’s not at all about knocking the enterprising spirit of all commerce for everything that is wrong with the world today, but about questioning the quality of individual thought behind the choices we make.
In acknowledgement however of my own imperfection where these things are concerned, I admit that this digressional tendency poses a personal / conceptual challenge for me too. I am by no means immune, as I attempt to maintain a certain authenticity to the claims I make, as to the “sustainability guided” original design and emerging character of my own organisation and practice.
This whole “Patterson Institute Project” a life’s work of sorts, is still a budding work in progress, a learning journey if you may, and will continue to be for some time to come as I attempt to allow space for [sustainability guided] emergence. Until now a significant part of my sustainability related thought process took place within the context of the “triple bottom line” – Planet, People, Profit. I ask myself however, since my only authority on matters of ecology stems from nothing more than a keen interest in living systems, if from an organisational perspective I choose to focus more on two of the three P’s – i.e. more on People and Profit, less on Planet, – would I effectively be shooting myself in the proverbial [3rd] foot.
To be fair I was warned about this by a Professor of mine. Warned about ignoring the 3rd P, warned about the journey metaphor, warned about letting model organisations off the hook since they appeared to be getting it right compared to everyone else, warned about the rigidity, origin, assumptions and negations of the very measures and models that would appear to put them ahead in the first place. It was also the same Professor who I still hold in the highest regard, who suggested to me once “if you must, better to choose to start to change the world by changing yourself”.
Reflecting on these things lead me to engage with the 3rd P, – Planet on a personal front first, through small wins. Exercising the personal-power I have now by changing little things. Nothing big, small steps – like testing out a vegetarian meal for a change, finding some interesting vegetarian recipes, giving myself permission to celebrate another small win by cutting out animal based food products for two or three non-concurrent days a week, or simply eating meat – two or three times a week instead of six or seven, exploring fully the many splendours or tomato sauce or original Jamaica Rice-am-Peas, and giving a little thought to where my food comes from.
I speak as no authority on ecological balances or the like, however if “sustainability” in the true sense of the word speaks to the things we do towards enabling a kind of viable symbiosis between us and the dynamic environments within which we live and work, in the spirit of what should still be a calling from the grassroots – could this tempered approach work for you?
Originally published February 3, 2014