[Photo credit: Emilia Tjernström]
In my work in the world, both volunteer work and at Next Generation Consulting work, I ponder the definition of sustainability a lot. My latest project is updating data on how we measure quality of life in cities.
Sustainability is derived from the Latin word "sustinere," to maintain, support, or endure. So, sustainability can be applied to anything that's intended to last a long, long time.
Most commonly, sustainability is used to reference the environment or natural resources. The extension of sustainability to health, economic and social impact is not as easily conveyed or understood. I think we need to change that.
In the business world, this wider understanding of sustainability translates to the triple bottom line, measuring profit, and how socially responsible an organization has been in its operations (people), and how environmentally responsible an organization has been (planet).
What does it mean to create or recreate a sustainable city?
To measure a city's sustainability we consider the built environment, the physical environment or natural resources, the overall health and engagement of its citizens, its social and economic opportunities, and its ability to innovate and educate.
We define sustainability based on the seven generations concept the Iroquois originated, which is making decisions today that will benefit future generations at least a couple hundred years into the future. (Note: the Iroquois also treat both genders with absolute parity; women are paid and lead equal to men.)
When I was considering attending Edgewood College's Sustainability Program last year, I met with the professors to discuss the course materials, expectations, and how I might fit in to the course work with my project and interests. I started to ask how much they covered arts and culture, social media and marketing, education, policy, healthcare, etc. The response from Jim Lorman was always that sustainability includes everything so we'll do our best to cover everything, some in more detail than others.
When you think about what can endure, it does include just about everything including our thoughts. This is an idea that has stuck with me, so I view sustainability as everything.
How do you view sustainability? Tune into our webcast on 3/28 at noon Central time to learn how five people are defining sustainability in their communities.