Sustainability has become a buzzword with multiple meanings and a lot of lip-service. We need to go further. Beyond sustainability: contributing to the creation of a better world is one of six conscious business principles described in the book, The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership. The terms social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability provide a recognized framework for evaluating how human choices impact social, environmental, and business vitality. These are sometimes abbreviated in the business world as people, planet, and profit, and are known as the triple bottom line.
Social sustainability in the broadest sense refers to the alleviation of hunger and poverty, a worthwhile goal for all of humanity. In the business context, social responsibility includes a people focus relating to fair labor practices and equitable compensation, which, for the lowest paid workers, represents more than the minimum living wage; workplace safety, including health and wellness; and a range of other topics such as product responsibility, diversity, sustainable lifestyles, and the creation of conscious cultures. Beyond the internal business operations, social sustainability may include community engagement, volunteering, and philanthropic contributions.
Environmental sustainability relates to the integrity of our planetary ecosystem, where resources are not harvested faster than they can be regenerated and waste is not released into the atmosphere faster than it can be assimilated. For business, environmental sustainability includes reducing consumption and waste in all aspects of business operations internally and across the extended supply chain; reducing the impact of products and services on local and global environments; and designing a future based on environmentally sustainable principles.
Economic sustainability relates to the long-term financial viability of the entity, be it a country, a company, or an individual, and implies a system of operation that satisfies current consumption without compromising future needs. The increasing levels of debt incurred by national and local governments raises economic sustainability concerns for future generations. In business, it is difficult to consider economic sustainability in isolation from social and environmental sustainability. Financial viability in a conscious business requires sustainable income and profitability while operating within the constraints of social and environmental sustainability.
Chris Laszlo and fellow researchers at Case Western Reserve University’s Wetherhead School of Management suggested that to get to prosperity and flourish, we will need to go beyond our language and thinking with a new spirit “able to provide a critical boost of energy, creativity and staying power aimed at the flourishing of the individual, the organization, and the world.” Flourishing individuals are full of vitality, deeply in touch with their own purpose, and feel connected to others, to community, and to all life on earth. Flourishing organizations generate sustainable value for all stakeholders and, by creating value for society and nature, find ways to create even more value for their customers and investors. A flourishing world represents societies that are economically, socially, culturally, and politically thriving.
Whether your primary purpose relates to social, environmental, or economic sustainability, it is time to go beyond sustainability to thriving and flourishing, increasing your contribution to the creation of a better world. Ask yourself, “What can I do to help the earth?” “What can I do to help create a better world for our children and grandchildren?” Taking care of each other, our organizations, and our planet is at the pinnacle of conscious leadership behavior.