The “S” word has run out of steam; today, our goals should be more ambitious.
The term was imprecise to begin with—what even is sustainability? A 2010 list of the year’s most overused jargon characterized sustainability as a “squishy, feel-good catchall for doing the right thing.” Of course, a more precise definition is available—one that describes a system of development in which the needs of the present generation are met without compromising those of future generations. It’s a prudent, commendable goal, but difficult to define in practice—anything, from printing double-sided to reducing the carbon footprint of a nationwide supply chain, could be considered a “sustainable” business practice.
Frankly, sustainability no longer inspires or excites people anymore.
But a still deeper issue is implied by the term, and the initiatives it engenders. Most sustainability programs are, in essence, oriented toward damage control; corporate sustainability policies ultimately focus on how to do less harm, and rarely raise the question, how can companies do more good?
“Frankly, [sustainability] no longer inspires or excites people anymore.” Such is the opinion of sustainability expert and professor, Chris Laszlo—an opinion he expresses unabashedly in a classroom lecture [video below]. Laszlo hammers his point home with this metaphor: “If you were to imagine asking a friend—a married friend—you know, ‘how is your marriage going?’ and if they were to say, ‘oh, it’s sustainable. . .’ you know they’re probably in trouble. . .”