Sustainability, But How?

Sustainability, but how? This has been a question that has been dominant in my mind recently – career-wise, as well as in reality.

What is sustainability? One would assume it refers to ‘something’ that sustains over an ‘expected period of time’. The complexity of defining sustainability lies in determining what that ‘something’ is, and, what the ‘expected period of time’ is.

To be honest, ‘something’ is ‘everything’, and ‘expected period of time’ is ‘forever’. Sustain everything forever? “That is impossible” is what one would jump to conclude right away. And, hence the nations and industries labor to limit the meaning and scope of this ‘something’ and this ‘expected period of time’ so that the chosen definition fits their bottom-line.

Strictly speaking, ‘sustainability’ is sustenance of ‘everything forever’. Altering the definition will not change reality. If earth and earth-kind are to continue forever (yes, there is more than just mankind that constitute this world) mankind has to change its ways (all earth-kinds other than man are doing their parts already).

Most of mankind’s strategy for the past several centuries (even millenia) has been ‘war’. This has conventionally been understood as between nations or peoples. From right about Industrial Revolution, the ‘wars’ waged between man and nature have shifted into high-gear on the autobahn!

Deforestation (explosion), population explosion, pollution (explosion) and other reckless tampering with nature’s ways are ugly manifestations of mankind’s greed. And how does mankind’s greed build? By hoarding more than what is needed. By converting everything into monetary value so that one is tempted to live under the illusion that money is the be-all and end-all of everything – accumulate enough money, and with money, anything can be bought.

There are definitely things that many people believe cannot be monetized – love, family and happiness, to name a few. But this list is shrinking. And, these are not words you use in an economic report or a financial statement.

But, to be truly sustainable, we should increase the list of things that cannot be monetized. Mankind has to find something other than money making to pre-occupy itself.

For the present, mankind has to pre-occupy itself with finding means of detoxifying itself from greed. It is ironical indeed that greed, money and sustainability are all green – just different shades, that clash with each other.

Where does one start?  History, life and introspection are the best teachers for this. It might sound too simplistic, but it is true. The most sublime solutions turn out to be simple.   Academia and the Universities are yet to learn to provide this knowledge as a readily digestible pill.

I am sure there are several books that could start this conversation going. I would recommend a book called ‘Ishmael‘ by Daniel Quinn.

And, here is wishing Dr. Kamal Bawa, recipient of the world’s first major award for sustainability work – Gunnerus Sustainability Award, even more success.


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