Sustainability. It’s everywhere, but what is it?

Sustainability. It’s everywhere. It’s difficult to find a space domain, sphere that isn’t working hard to let you know that they’re sustainable. Nearly everything that we come into contact with makes some sort of claim to sustainability.

By Gaëlle Eizlini

So what is sustainability? What does it mean? Webster’s Dictionary defines sustainability as “capable of being sustained”. Not terribly helpful. The Oxford Dictionary adds a bit more detail, defining sustainability as “the quality of being sustainable at a certain rate or level”. Ok. A bit better, but not much clearer.

Maybe we need to take a look at in which contexts we find that word before finding a definition that is more robust than the feedback loops offered by major dictionaries. Where, then, do we find this word most often? On the things that we buy - foods, clothing, all the sundries of our lives. We see it mostly in services that are offered to us as individuals, or for our businesses. So sustainability is most often discussed in a business or economic context.

Why are our economic and business areas around the world focused on sustainability? As effects of climate change, and other areas of environmental degradation, began to get more notice from global leaders and policy makers in the 1980’s, the UN established the World Commission on Environment and Development that looked to unite countries as they pursued development within the context of this awareness of multiple environmental problems.

The Commission, led by former Swedish Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, published a report in 1987 titled Our Common Future which is often referred to as the Brundtland Report. In the conclusion of this report, the Commission provides this definition: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It is this context of economic development and the future, especially future generations, that the term sustainability is used, and it is the context that frames our work.

From this definition provided by the Brundtland Report sustainability efforts have grown in the business world. These efforts started with companies making efforts to measure and report on their environmental impacts. This led to efforts that led to the creation of various standards so that those measurements were consistent across various industries or practices. Those standards expanded to go beyond the environmental effects. And as reporting and tracking and improved sustainability efforts, and strengthened corporate social responsibility, we’ve seen the emergence of ESG - which I will introduce in another post.

Sustainability is everywhere, and we have a definition that helps us guide business actions. Getting started on your own company’s journey can be just as easy as knowing how to define sustainability. At Muuvment, we’re here to help you on your journey and provide support in a number of different areas such as sustainability and ESG guidance and advisory services; sustainability-based employee impact engagement and sustainability training.