Forget Sustainability, Think Sustenance

Some of us still talk about ‘business sustainability’ as an answer to the limits we’re hitting everywhere, in energy, in clean air and water, in natural resources, in purchasing power of the middle class, in debt-based material growth etc. It’s a useful idea to forget about sustainability. If something can’t be sustained, it won’t be sustained, no matter how hard we hope. If the true costs for diminishing and permanently used-up resources was charged to business beneficiaries of those resources, these businesses would close their doors tomorrow.

If we, as individuals, were forced to live within the boundaries of one planet, instead of four planets or twenty planets, our lifestyle, as we know it, would be finished today. The fact is, many of our current activities can’t be maintained for much longer, even if we continued to ignore the moral problem of global inequality, or the problem of 1% of the people grabbing and using up wealth and resources on behalf of the rest of us, and even on behalf of their own grandchildren. For both businesses and individuals, it’s more than just a question of sustainability of operations. It’s about sustenance as a business, about existence.

What to do, if you are a business owner? Firstly, make sure your company has understood the situation. Secondly, make sure you have hired the best thinking available to help decide the right course of action. Thirdly, don’t waste any more time hoping that a solution appears out of thin air and bails you out at the last minute.

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