Groking Sustainability–Part One

I spent some of my time last week attending the Business As An Agent of World Benefit (BAWB) conference in the comfort of my own home. I love virtual conferences! A peek into the buzz and hum of multiple presentations while sipping tea in my jammies late at night. What could be better?

I’ve gone back to the BAWB Site a number of times now. I have such a mix of feelings about all of what I’ve read and heard–what’s been most difficult is the corporate concept of “doing well by doing good” and developing a mental landscape and some kind of conceptional understanding of what true sustainability means.

When David Cooperrider made his opening remarks on Tuesday, he told a story about his son discovering that we are losing an average of three species per hour and his comment, “Daddy, what am I supposed to do with that?” I must admit that I often find myself in the same frame of mind–what am I supposed to do with what little I know and understand about what Peter Senge calls, “the change in the magnitude of change?”

Appreciative Inquiry calls upon us to use our capacity to dream up and imagine a future based on our strengths…and at the same time, the reality of our personal footprint on the earth is daunting. According to Peter Senge, it takes 1 TON of raw materials per day to support my individual daily lifestyle and that overlooks the amount of waste that is produced in the process! And further, that in the United States, the average pound of food travels 2,000 miles from where it is produced to where it is purchased.

For “virtual” attendees, the conference had a rich texture of online chats cafes and blogs where we mused with colleagues from Singapore, Israel, Canada…this question arose from Maria Humphies in New Zealand…

“How, and how soon, might we invent a process of caring for ourselves (the whole human family) and the earth who sustains us, that is not based on the ideological assumptions of capitalism?”

As I sit with this question, I want to stretch it in a different direction. I want to ask other questions:

Is there a new economic model that can draw on the resources (creative, innovative, leadership, stakeholder, shareholder, financial) of corporations to respond to the true interdependent nature of ecological and social concerns?

What knowledge, skills, and actions are required to shift sustainability theory to practical application?

What are the current initiatives and best practices locally and globally?

And, of course, what can I, personally, do?

Sustainability is a complex subject–at BAWB it was catagorized as Environment, Poverty and Peace. Last year, at the Clinton Global Initiative, the catagories were: Climate Change, Religion, Poverty and Governance.
Peter Senge offered: Food and Water, Energy and Transportation, and Materials (production, distribution and sales) with the thought that any business can locate where it sits within the global system using these categories.

I think we have a lot to think about in determining how to go from being conscious of the social-ecological challenges of our time and taking actions that are aligned with all of the complexity of what represents sustainability.

I’m actually reaching out to you, personally, and asking you to help me think about this…read this Oxfam report about Unilever available at the links below:

Report Summary

Actual Report

and share your response. Explore the sustainability link to the Earth Institute at the beginning of this blog or visit

and sit with your thoughts and feelings. Raise the conversation with your friends and children and grandchildren. Become informed. Appreciative Inquiry offers the unique opportunity to face what’s difficult and not turn away or collapse into despair. There are probably many answers to the question, “What can I do?” and one thing I know for sure is that I can begin conversations around making a difference…please join me and stayed tuned for Part Two!


One Response to Groking Sustainability–Part One

  1. robertap says:

    Last week I was in a meeting talking about sustainability and its relationship to the food industry. If we are to be honest sustainable food is not a new paradigm. Our ancestors practiced this through farming and hunting for many centuries. It is only in the last 100 years that we have had the national and global movement of food across multiple states, countries, and oceans. Within the question of sustainable food there are so many questions,miles traveled, organic, natural to an area, health benefit and toxic impact. Processed vs natural. At times the questions can be a barrier or a reason to dive into conversations that matter. Food and Water matter…… What are the dialogs and sense making within an individual, family, neighborhood, organization, farmers, manufacturers, distribution, trucking and between countries? Thanks for your posting.

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