Sustainability is a disruptor

August 29, 2016

sustainability is a disruptor

Sustainability is a disruptor because it fundamentally challenges the way we live, work and play.

Many of the systems that have evolved over the last century promote short-term decision making.  These systems tend to put aside the consideration of broader social, economic and environmental impacts. Climate change, and the externalized costs associated with the release of carbon into the atmosphere, is a good example.  Putting a price on carbon begins to tie these costs to the activities that emit them.  In doing so, this provides a financial incentive to reduce emissions.

Short-termism (and greed) were at the heart of a number of epic corporate and economic failures in recent years.  We have seen the emergence of corporate governance schools, like The Directors College and the Institute of Corporate Directors in recent years. They are responding to the need for stronger oversight, insight and foresight to protect business sustainability.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) encourages businesses to operate in an economic, social and environmentally sustainable manner.  I recently attended a regional networking social for B Corporation owners.  B Corps embrace the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.  In doing so, they take the long view on how they run their business, serve their customers and treat their employees.

Credit Unions, co-operative banking, also take the long view.  They provide the same services as banks.  However, they are owned by their members and are not publicly traded.  This means they can focus on bringing value to the people and businesses they serve.  In contrast, a bank shareholder is only focused on quarterly earnings.  In general, co-operatively-structured organizations have a longer-term and more sustainable approach built in to their culture.

Short-termism is also too often rewarded at the polls.  Even governments that get sustainability are challenged to deliver the right programs.  They are much too easy a target during an election campaign.  Sustainability does not lend itself well to sound bites.

There are examples around the world where systems are changing to internalize sustainable thinking into decision making. We can support this transition.  We can begin by simply asking different questions at work, around the board room table, or at home: how might we make this decision in a way that also contributes economically, socially and environmentally to our community?