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What is Sustainability?

June 26, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Sustainability

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability, in a broad sense, is the capacity to endure. In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans it is the potential for the long-term maintenance of well-being, which in turn depends on the well-being of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.

Sustainability scope and application

Sustainability has become a popular term in recent times and not just in relation to maintaining and preserving the earth’s natural resources such as water or trees or the air. Sustainability is now applied to all individual and collective efforts made by people (in small enterprises, larger-scale commercial organizations, local councils, cities, government departments and charitable entities etc) to preserve energy and natural resources at every possible level.

The simple idea here is that the combined efforts of every individual can significantly assist in a number of ways, including helping to preserve:

  • Energy resources
  • Plants and forests
  • Water resources
  • Land resources (and the capacity to produce food)
  • Clean air
  • Consumables (by minimizing waste)

In so doing, we can have a positive impact on climate change, acid rain, deforestation, soil erosion, over-fishing, water pollution etc and help to create a more natural equilibrium between man and the planet earth in the process.

The impact of commercial organizations

There is now considerable scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably and it will take a major collective effort on an internationally cooperative basis to get back to reasonable limits.  Although individuals can and should take local action to help (especially in the home and by reducing their personal “carbon footprint”), it is organizations that can make the most significant and far-reaching difference (including urban and rural councils which run towns and cities, large Government departments and commercial enterprises of all sizes and types). In fact, it is estimated that the actions of commercial organizations alone are likely to have as much as 75% of the impact on our future success in achieving sustainability targets and goals.

Steps to create a sustainable business

For organizations of all kinds, ways of working more sustainability can take many forms, from reorganizing working conditions, changing work practices, using eco-friendly strategies of all kinds and utilizing green technologies to make adjustments. However, in the most basic terms, to create a sustainable business of any kind requires a systematic plan of action to be taken. This plan would need at least some if not all of the following steps. To plan to:

  • Cut energy usage of all kinds (reductions of 50%-75% are commonplace)
  • Cut Travel and Transportation (reductions in transport expenses of 50% have been reported in some firms)
  • Design and procure materials and consumables in more “green” ways
  • Use less water and re-use it more often (cuts of 30% are commonplace and re-use can be lifted by 50%)
  • Reduce raw material inputs to the minimum possible (reductions by up to 50% have been regularly reported)
  • Eliminate toxic materials (this can be done very quickly and completely)
  • Reduce emissions and keep the air clean (reductions of over 40% are commonplace)
  • Eliminate or convert waste (reductions of over 50% are commonplace or opportunities have been found to turn waste in one organization to a cost-effective raw material input in another)

The above is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but even relatively minor efforts to change old habits in even two or three of these areas will pay high dividends in terms of not only healthier environmental outcomes but more cost effective or profitable ones too. In other words, establishing a sustainability strategy creates the economic, environmental and societal benefits that all businesses should ideally strive for.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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