Sustainability is the word we use to talk about
Maybe it’s the wrong word to use, because of its connection with ‘green’ or environmental issues.
But we find it useful because it is broad enough to cover a number of related ideas.
We could just talk about organisational survival. But is sustainability really just about survival? Things change and things end. And those ideas are very important – your organisation won’t survive by staying the same. It has to evolve. (Coincidentally, environmental metaphors are very helpful for thinking about sustainability – what is your organisation’s ecosystem? What stage is it at in its lifecycle? What’s going on in its external environment?)
We could also talk about financial viability – and lots of people think that’s all that sustainability really amounts to: if we can earn more than we spend, we’re sustainable. But it’s easy to think of organisations which have been financially healthy but which have not survived because, for example, they were badly run, their staff were unhappy, they ignored their customers, they didn’t adapt to change – and so on.
We also need to be honest – it’s not all about organisations. What right does your organisation have to exist? Who does it serve? What difference does it make? Sometimes sustainability is about equipping other people not to need us anymore. Building the capacity of people, communities and other services to sustain things for themselves. Sustainability is about impact, not just organisations.
For all these reasons, we define sustainability as the capacity (of an organisation, service or system) to make a lasting difference. Our research has identified the four core capabilities of sustainable organisations. Read more here.