What is “sustainable”?
February 13, 2011, 4:26 am
Filed under: Brain dump | Tags: , ,

I can go on for a long, long time about definitions — of sustainability, of responsibility, etc. — but I won’t bore you with that (today). Let’s pretend for a moment we know what “sustainable” means and instead briefly consider what concepts can or cannot be described as sustainable.

A lot of people are already clued into the fact that “sustainable growth” is a mutually exclusive term, a figment of (corporate and government) imagination, at least if we’re talking about sustainability into the indefinite future. [For more on limits to growth, read Limits to Growth or Beyond Growth, or even Resource Wars.]

But I learned something recently that is so simple yet surprising I would like to share it: it is irrelevant and misleading to talk of “sustainable companies.” I already knew the lists of “most sustainable companies in the world” were problematic (for any number of reasons other writers have pointed out already). But Judy Wicks introduced me to this further insight when I saw her on a panel recently. She pointed out that only the system can be sustainable — individual companies cannot be sustainable if they’re part of an unsustainable system. Makes sense to me. So now can we stop publishing lists of the “100 most sustainable companies”?


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