Sustainability is a concept that involves the capacity to endure. In 1987, the Brundtland Commissions of the United Nation defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Utilizing this definition, sustainability does not only take the environment into consideration as many would assume. There are also social and economic aspects of sustainability that help to balance our society.

In a quick overview, the environmental perspective of sustainability involves understanding, appreciating, and monitoring the use of our resources. Over the past few decades, we have seen a solid response by government agencies, the media, and social groups that advocate for sustainable living for a better environment. In the social context, a sustainable community is seen as a nurturing community. This could include everything from housing developments to a constructive society that uses voting to pass measures beneficial to that community. Lastly, economic sustainability involves fostering economic growth for a more efficient and self-relying society. The picture below illustrates these defintinos, and provides an overlap of all three perspectives.

The three ring design breaks up sustainability into three distinct but overlapping aspects.

Under the overlapping theme of capitalism, I believe sustainable capitalism can be achieved. In terms of the environmental aspect, we can work to reduce unnecessary production and eliminate “planned obsolescence.” This can come about if we produce durable products for human needs and not for corporate profits. We should also find ways to curb resource depletion and focus on conservation, recycling and renewable technologies. In terms of the economy, we need to renounce the notion of constant expansion and growth. If we encourage the concept of a “steady state economy” we would be able to emphasizes qualitative economic development not quantitative economic growth. Lastly, the society implications of sustainability in relatin to capitalmism would ensure the preservation of the notion of creative entrepreneurship and innovation but restrain self-interest and control income disparities.

As consumers and participants in a capitalist economy, many of us have shared in the spoils of the system. Capitalism cannot be reformed until we alter our own behavior as consumers. If we learn to be sustainable – live with less, lower our material expectations, and reduce our consumption/ecological footprint – our capitalist society will thrive as a sustainable system.  As individuals, we have to take responsibility and live within nature’s biocapacity before the “system” can adjust.

About Steph P.

Business Government and Society

One response »

  1. Jordi says:

    A sufficient economy is an interesting idea. Can we achieve it through changes in governance, in politics? THat would change alignments of interests? Would it require a change in “thinking,” a blossoming of sustainability ethics?

    THese are the kinds of issues Orr dealt with too.

    He came down on the need for new thinking. But a different approach, one I call “the accountants will save us” imagines changes in alignments, governance, and business models.

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