It's time to ditch sustainability
By Spencer B. Beebe
Nothing is sustainable, but you'd never know it. The term sustainable is in such wide use these days — sustainable business, sustainable mining, sustainable futures — you might be tempted to believe the exact opposite.
Practically everything, it would appear, is or can be sustainable.
Sustainability as a concept has good intentions, but the term itself has become so co-opted that it now gets in the way of real efforts to fundamentally change the way we relate to one another and do business.
To create lasting change, we need to change how we talk about the challenges of the work ahead: health vs. health care, farms that restore soil and water as a consequence of producing healthy food, forestry that increases species diversity and C02 storage while generating a return to its owners, green buildings that reduce energy use and improve workforce productivity, credit for small businesses that come largely from community banks, and diverse local energy sources that don't rely on a stable Middle East. We need to talk about solutions that arise naturally, tangibly and practically from the initiative and needs of community residents and the very particular and distinctive character of the places in which we live.
Innovation is a deeply natural process that arises gradually from the bits and pieces of our collective and connected experiences. We should toss the term "sustainability" and try "natural" instead, for the language we use shapes our worldview.
Today we waste far too much precious hope, time and energy waiting for traditional institutions of government and large corporations to solve our fundamental problems. Why wait on national political solutions when there is so much good work to be done at home? A truly adaptive, resilient, and more natural form of development comes most easily from the very intimate relationships between people and place.
Spencer B. Beebe is the founder and president of Ecotrust, and the founding president of Conservation International. His new book is Cache: Creating Natural Economies. He last wrote for SBO about the "nature state" approach to prosperity.
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