Solving the Sustainability Puzzle


Gridlock can often derail sturdy locomotives when all the leaders are driving it in different directions.  The Federal government is no exception.  Political in-fighting is the game of the day.  President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address this month which earned mixed reviews depending on their party affiliation. 

Yet, many politicians recognize that America’s massive financial debt isn’t sustainable.   The latest crisis involves sequestration which requires automatic cuts across the government, including defense and domestic programs based on a specific deadline.

 According to a recent George Mason University study, over 2.14 million American jobs would be lost if sequestration took place.  The original concept of sequestration was to create an artificial doomsday that would force both political parties to work together.  It didn’t work!

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky made a plea for deep spending cuts and congressional term limits:  “The path we are on is not sustainable, but few in Congress or in this administration seem to recognize that their actions are endangering the prosperity of the nation.” 

If the federal government, with its massive resources, is  unable to deal with the issues of sustainability, what hope do other smaller organizations have then?  “Instead of negotiating, party leaders were busy issuing ultimatums and casting blame,” noted Washington Post columnist Lori Montgomery.

With the ever increasing chaos and complicity of business operations to achieve a profit, the concept of sustainability becomes more than an Ivy League Business School buzz word.  The speed of change and the constant bombardment of market problems continue to haunt business executives who hope to survive another crisis situation.

Organizations that do not understand this necessity soon find themselves looking at the behinds of other organizations that are in front of them. In order to survive, today’s business leaders need to understand the market environment, recognize their strengths, pursue market opportunities, and obtain continuing profitability while taking a long-view perspective of their operations to achieve sustainability.

More and more organizations recognize that sustainability is more than keeping the environment clean.  Yet, the concept of sustainability is often difficult to define. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sustainability is defined as “everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.” 

Consequently, one person may view sustainability simply as the ability to use resources continuously without any long-term depletion.  Andres Edwards, author of The Sustainability Revolution, breakdowns sustainability in several  key components which are  ecology/environment, economy/employment, equity/equality, and education.

Some businesses executives quietly argue that profitability supercedes many other priorities such as the environment.  Edwards disagrees: “Creating a healthy environment, free of pollution and toxic waste, and simultaneously providing the basic for a dynamic economy that will endure for an extended period are viewed as complementary rather than conflicting endeavors.”

 However, are there many things that are possible to be sustained without proper planning for them?  In order for businesses to avoid these conflicts of interest between capitalism and the sustainability model, visionary leaders must communicate their expectations to all members of their organizations and throughout their supply chain. 

Discuss the concepts of sustainability as it relates to your profession.

© 2013 by Daryl D. Green