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The obsession with the word sustainability

Anett H. Valsvik is a Principal Consultant at DNV in Oslo working in the area of risk management and corporate responsibility

I just returned from the 10th Annual Responsible Business Summit in London. And I’m tired. Not from travelling or meeting people. That was great and inspiring. But I’m tired of the word sustainability. Hearing words like sustainable business, sustainable management, sustainable marketing, sustainable sourcing, sustainable standards, and even sustainable innovation makes me worried. I’m worried about what” unsustainable” sustainability combination comes next . And I’m worried about a serious dilution of the meaning of the word.

Let’s go back 24 years to 1987 and look at the publication of the  report “Our Common Future” by the Brundtland Commsssion. Here we find the most common used definition of the word sustainability, i.e “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Let’s keep this definition in mind whenever we use the word sustainability. Because not everything is sustainable. It cannot be.

To me, sustainability or sustainable development is about tangible things. It’s about how much water is being used when producing a cup of coffee. It’s about how much we squeeze our suppliers in order to get a better price.  It’s about reducing CO2 emissions. Then, when we show that these tangible things in fact  increase revenue or reduce costs, then we’ll get management and board room attention. And then the word sustainability should become an obsession…

3 Comments Add your comment
Avatar Petter Norli says:

Great point, I’m sick and tired of the misuse of this word, it’s being drained of meaning, and it’s time to take alert.

Avatar Noel Peters says:

Great post Anett!

Avatar Melinda says:

Well said! The word “sustainable” is so HOT at the moment, that everybody is using it with out even understanding what it stands for…. thank you for the update!

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