I was talking with a coworker about this month’s blog topic which is “Sustainability”. There is a lot to say on the topic, but as I got to thinking about it I realized perhaps we really need to think about what sustainability is.
By the Book – relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged for future generations.
From a non-profit perspective, I would say that it means “How do we make sure we can continue our mission forever”. Sounds simple enough. Find out how to run things well and don’t bite off too much at once, but as I continued to think about it I realized that sustainability is much more than that.
Nothing, not life, not the earth even the stars will last forever. In time everything collapses and becomes something else. Most of what we think of as matter was originally forged by stars and scattered throughout the galaxy upon their destruction.
Are organizations any different? Should we be striving to swim against the order of the universe or should we instead ride with it and accept the transformations? History is full of stories of rise and fall, and for a select few, rising again.
Sustainability is more than making sure we can do something forever because in time something will bring an end to things as we know them. When we think of sustainability, we must also think about transformation and what we become after the change. The world does not sit still; challenges, opportunities and problems we face today could not even have been conceived a century ago. Sustainability means looking forward into the near and intermediate future and having a plan of what to become in that future, and in some cases adapting to a sudden and complete change that happens today.
Sustainability is more than careful use of a resource so that you still have some for tomorrow. It also means recognizing and preparing for what you can do with that resource when (not if) tomorrow becomes a very different place.