Sustainability Is Not A Wind Farm Or Solar Array

By Anders Ferguson, Partner

Sustainability Is Something Much More:  It’s A Worldview Based On Mindfulness And Interconnectedness

Sustainability is not climate change or local organic food.

Too often, those of us who care deeply about the sustainability movement tend to talk about it as a bright, shiny object – a new technology or the latest way to make the world a better place.

This focus on concrete outcomes is certainly good, but it commoditizes and limits the conversation and analysis about this critical issue.

The dilemma is easy to understand.  We comprehend our world through sight and touch.  Hence, the outcomes of our creative minds and hardworking hands are the easiest to see and experience as sustainable.

In fact, sustainability is a transformative worldview that is much more than new Teslas rolling off the assembly line, recycling or promoting impact investing. It is a mindset for seeing and changing our world.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is a deep understanding that everything is seamlessly and beautifully interconnected.  It is rooted in a mindfulness recognizing that each of us, doing our own work in our own field, is connected to others and impacts others, even if we don’t see it or realize it. It understands that the process of creating new sustainable products and services is equally as important as the products themselves.  A critical Yin and Yang for innovation.

Sustainability also accepts the responsibility to act and build a thriving world for our children and many generations to come.  A big task. A lot of real wisdom is needed.

Specialization has produced unprecedented knowledge that has benefited us all. But we often lose sight of the whole. Typically, one group working diligently on one problem isn’t really concerned about the broader implications to the rest of the world – and the unintended side effects.

Fossil fuel is an illustrative example of our siloed thinking. Fossil fuels were intended to help society be more productive, but more than 200 years of their use has had unintended global consequences – climate change.

Even at Veris, in our daily work with clients, we also too easily speak of sustainable products and services and the global challenges we have to solve as sustainability itself.  The reality is that they are actually the results of thinking and acting sustainability.

A Unified Worldview

Sustainability, then, is about looking at the world as an interconnected whole.

It’s about connecting the dots – uniting different branches of knowledge to produce solutions that transcend an atomized world, while refusing to be blind to the negative impact that one group or industry may have on others.

Put another way, the external world is a reflection of our inner selves:  “How’s your Inner Climate changing?”  If we are mindful and see the interconnectedness of all things, then the animating spirit of sustainability is present.

It’s not until we are one with ourselves – that we experience life holistically – that we can conceive of new ways of organizing ourselves and society that we unleash innovation.

A New Mindset: Moving from the Tangibility of a Prius to the Open Mind of Interconnectedness

By operating with the belief that all things are interconnected, we unleash creativity and enhance the performance of individuals. In essence, we dissolve the artificial barriers that divide one branch of knowledge from another, and begin to perceive the negative and positive results of our actions and decisions.

Interconnectedness also inspires individuals and companies to build new “mindfulness-based operating systems” that nurture and cultivate both the organization’s and our well-being. The common thread in these new systems is that they fully respect and appreciate human beings, nature and their potential.

Some of the world’s most sophisticated companies are already starting to operate with this mindset.

BlackRock, the largest financial firm in the world, and the CEO of AETNA, the health insurer, are embracing mindfulness and interconnectedness as a business strategy. They are encouraging their 70,000 combined employees to think about and practice, their own work and health with mindful intent. Toyota has done the same. The Japanese carmaker imagined the Prius years before it was prototyped or the market was ready. Unilever is transforming global consumer products by putting sustainability first throughout it interconnected global brands and operating companies on the ground in nearly every culture in the world.

Impact investing is another expression of sustainability. Impact investing funnels capital to people, ideas, projects and companies whose work seeks to develop human potential and preserve the sanctity of the planet for its own sake and the sake of generations to come.

Sustainability Inspires Progress

Our world faces huge, some would say life threatening challenges.  Arguably most have been created by humans.  Now it is our responsibility to undo the damage and create a flourishing future. By creating systems empowering our “sustainable minds” we are giving intelligent people the freedom to create unique and world-changing outcomes.

“Sustainable minds” and systems create breakthrough innovation, holistic analysis and action. They reimagine supply chains, create products we really need and build companies creating real value for shareholders and stakeholders.  They give people the freedom to act and dream big for the common good.

This is why the artist is as important to creating deep sustainability as the engineer, impact investor or the organic farmer. The multi-dimensional nature of sustainability demands everyone’s contributions.

It may be hard for us to truly believe it, but at its heart, sustainability may be as simple as changing our minds.

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