Sustainability: What does it actually mean?

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Alex Edds
Energy and Sustainability Services

This may seem like a strange title for an article written in 2013 for we now live in a world where one cannot avoid news about the demise of our planet’s resources or the threat of climate change. The growing consensus amongst business leaders, concerned citizens and even government is that we need to adopt a more sustainable path if we, as a global community, can continue to enjoy the quality of life that the we in the western world have become accustomed to over the last fifty years. 

Yet despite this acceptance, and the regularity with which these issues hit the headlines to provoke us into action, there is still an alarming amount of inaction. Why?

As I see it, one of main causes of inaction is due to a lack of understanding. Whether a politician, a business leader or an individual; there is still so much uncertainty about what it actually means to them?

I therefore thought it appropriate to try to clarify this confusion, and set straight some of the common misconceptions around the term ‘sustainability’, and to provide insight and evidence as to its correct use, and make clear why we, as individuals, business leaders and government, need to pursue true sustainability if we are to continue enjoying a good quality of life, while also protecting our valuable natural environment. 

In business I am regularly faced with the narrow view that sustainability is purely about CSR or that is it solely about environmental protection. It is not!

At its core, sustainability is the interrelationship and more importantly the balance, between the natural environment, our society and the economic infrastructure that allows us to buy and sell goods and services. 

What does that mean? Well it is actually very simple. 

To achieve a sustainable outcome (in whatever context) one must recognise and value the three ‘pillars’ of sustainability.


Because the economy is dependent upon our society and the natural environment to operate.  And our society is dependent upon the environment and the economy to survive and flourish. Ok, so what is the environment dependent upon?

Answer: Nothing. The natural environment sustained itself very nicely for 4 billion years until we came along!

So the next time someone tells you they can’t afford to be sustainable, or that ‘sustainability’ costs too much, take pleasure in pointing out the oxymoron and explain the error of their ways!

Read my full blog here

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