Wednesday, April 07, 2010

sustainability is change

The worst thing to happen to the concept of sustainable development was its devolution into sustainability.  The semantics are important because they belie two key points: 
  • the denial of change as the central construct defining sustained growth and future prosperity,and
  • the transference of a human management construct into a purely scientific measure of precautionary possibility.
The recent events in Haiti and Chile show the consequences of this shift in thinking.  

Both Haiti and Chile experienced large earthquakes: in Haiti the effects were severe, in Chile they were not.  In the past two decades, Haiti has been subjected to extensive "sustainability" thinking from NGOs and government intervention in the economy: it has neither experienced development nor is it any more sustainable than when those efforts started.  In contrast, Chile has sustained its development, experienced real economic growth and was able to sustain its population through a natural disaster.

Sustainability is a term derived from the original concept of sustainable development.  Sustainable development was predicated on the recognition that environment, economy and society had to be integrated constructs within the management of development for it to be sustainable.

Sustainability is a management construct. The central question it addresses is:
  • how do we manage growth and future change so that it is sustainable?

Science might provide some measures, some indicators as to levels of sustainability but absent of the integration of environmental measurements with economic indicators and social variables, those  measurements lack interpretive meaning and become co-opted dogma within the ideology of its proponents: hence the emergence of politicized science (and the associated pre-dominance of contrived environmental imperatives for morally constructed political action).

Sustainability is not some game.  It does not have a scientifically derived end line measurement, a set of goal posts society should be shooting for.  

Sustainability is the process of capacity building that gives communities the capability to adapt to change, sustain their development and provide hope to future generations.

As Fullan states:

  • Sustainability is the capacity of a system to engage in the complexities of continuous improvement consistent with deep values of human purpose. 
Capacity.  Providing individuals with the ability and skills they need, empowering them, giving them the confidence, esteem and social conditions under which they can self-actualize.

Engage.  Becoming active agents in the determination of their own futures.  Being empowered not pawns of governments, NGOs and elites exerting power over them "in their best interest".

Continuous improvement.  Leaving the world a better place, a changed place, but a more healthy, prosperous place by embracing technological advancement and improving the human condition.  Embracing change as constructive, positive and liberating.

Deep values of human purpose. Sustainability is a management construct for political decision making based on values.  Those values should reflect the community's determination of moral standards, cultural differences and preferences.  It is contextualized by community and should not be dictated by dogma and elite ideology.

Sustainability is change.  Not the denial of change, the suppression of change, nor the control of change.

To implement sustainability effectively we must address this distinction directly in the consideration of power, precaution and the perpetuation of ecomyths..