Wednesday, 1 September 2010

What is Sustainability?

Nearly a decade years ago I attended a seminar convened by the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) – an organisation soon to be wound down as the government’s spending cuts bite. The subject of the seminar was “Sustainability”. There were presentations on a range of issues around the three legs of sustainability: ‘people’, ‘planet’ and ‘profit’.

The person sitting beside me complained quietly in my ear, “What is all this talk about the environment?” He expected to hear about financial sustainability. He wanted information on balance sheets and how to secure financial stability for his company. He could not be persuaded that embracing the broader agenda of sustainability would have long-term financial benefits, reduce risks and set the circumstances to ensure long-term survivability of the business.

The term ‘sustainability’ is now much more widely known but deep understanding of what it means remains elusive. All too often ‘sustainability’ consists of a superficial assessment of environmental and social impacts to be used as a thin veneer over decisions taken overwhelming under the influence of economic factors.

Sustainability is people, planet and profit – in that order of priority.

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