Cornerstone Global Associates



Posted by: simona on: January 23, 2013

Simona Ross, Cornerstone

"There is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed."

~Mohandas K. Gandhi

Sustainability can be defined as a long-term, cyclic process of a value adding system independent of additional external input, aiming to preserve and conserve our ecosystem, while pursuing intra- and intergenerational parity. The ecosystem includes all aspects of our natural environment and human society, such as cultural heritage, social arrangements, norms and beliefs, resources, biological organisms, security, and psychological and physical health. The definition of sustainability has two key concepts: (1) the cyclic process of a value adding system, and (2) sustainability is long-term. An essential component of a value adding system, a mechanism that drives the development of human society, is a cyclic process that ensures constant progress. Sustainability from a holistic perspective has to include social sustainability, political sustainability, economical sustainability, cultural sustainability, and environmental sustainability. To ensure the well-being of present and future generations, development has to be attainable, equitable, viable, and bearable for all elements of the ecosystem. Subsequently, the ultimate goal of sustainability is to achieve a long-lasting increase of the quality of life for all members of the society, while preserving the ecosystem and granting evolving prosperity for the present and future generations. If applied properly, sustainable living ideally faces no limitations, as it ought to be based solely on renewable energy, without the addition of non-renewable elements. However, this would require all of us to recognize the vulnerability of our planet and to accept its finite amount of resources. Thus, the primary objective should not be limited to the preservation of our nature, social arrangements, and traditional cultures and knowledge, but rather include the aim to contribute to the well-being of our society.

Some crucial factors to accomplish and affirm sustainability include consensus-building, collectivism, good governance, transforming value systems, and the acceptance of subjectivism, ‘contextualism’, and pluralism.

To realize and maintain sustainability, a broad consensus concerning the strategy to achieve sustainability and the desired goal has to be reached within the world community. Emphasis has to be put on a participatory process towards sustainability, which would ensure inclusiveness of marginalized groups and beliefs. A failure to do so would give rise to inequality and social unrest and subsequently cause resentment towards global environmental and social standards. Nikoi (2005) argues that societies with a resource dependency greater than the resources available in the environment are more prone to face instability. This concept sheds light on the fact that disagreement over the approach to achieve sustainability is not the sole factor of social unrest, but that extensive exploitation of natural resources is a risk factor in itself.

Further, environmental and social standards lack international recognition. In fact, a growing number of members of the developing countries feel a sense of entitlement to disregard environmental and social standards, complaining that the ‘West’ is the primary contributor to environmental degradation, the exploitation of natural resources, and the oppression of traditional cultures and belief systems. Nonetheless, we will need combined efforts to tackle the complex challenges of the 21st century. Collectivism is achieved through a broad network of partners that provides informal insurance and promotes income distribution, which in effect decreases the income gap and leads to greater equality among people. Another component to decrease inequality is good governance, where functional democracy and citizens participation are essential tools to hold the government accountable in case of insufficient provision of public goods.


Daly and Farley (2010) advise that as we utilize non-renewable resources we have to take a sufficient share of profits to invest them in renewable resources that will substitute the use of non-renewable resources one day. Although, he articulates a substantially realistic approach towards sustainability, the idealistic and holistic strategy to accomplish sustainability ought to be entirely independent of fossil fuels and other sources of non-renewable resources.

One of the core prerequisites to achieve sustainability will be a change in our value system. To ensure true sustainability, people must accept collectivism over individualism, for reaching sustainability has to be the ultimate goal of all individuals. Daly and Farley (2010) state that “most ethical systems would demand at the very least that we do not risk catastrophic outcomes for the future in exchange for nonessential benefits today (p.189).” The objective has to be to thrive towards environmentally aware resource utilization. The attempt to oppose the concept of sustainability on society may cause resentment, rather than enthusiastic and authentic conviction. We have to witness a transformation from a world system that defines well-being by the accumulation of monetary income, to a culture that values human life and puts emphasis on social relationships, ancient traditions and beliefs, and the interconnectedness with our environment. Society has to rethink its mainstream norms and values.

Considering the cultural, biological, and natural diversity of every particle in this world, sustainability requires us to accept the limitations of the physical and social realities in this world. We have to acknowledge our personal subjectivism, situational ‘contextualism’, and global pluralism. When approaching challenges and designing solutions we must be aware of personal subjectivism, and evaluate how our personal worldview influences our actions and thus the outcome of our design. We also should realize that our actions occur within a fundamental context of surrounding realities. For this reason, we must find and embrace the strength of all elements in our natural and social environment. Daly and Farley (2010) underscore that the environment is the major constraint to human interventionism. To accept pluralism is essential because of the complexity of our world; nothing is absolute but everything is evolving and transforming. Norgaard (1994) argues that “recognizing conceptual pluralism should heighten our awareness of the structure and assumptions of diverse conceptual frameworks through appreciation of their differences (p.85).”

Even though inequality, poverty, conflict, and social and environmental degradation are widespread and pose a real threat to our society, and the need for greater sustainability is urgent, humankind can be hopeful to achieve a world of prosperity for the present society and many more to come. Albeit the fact that progress is deliberate and a large share of the world population turns a blind eye to the consequences of their ignorant and egocentric pursuit for material wealth, a growing number of considerate individuals devote their passion, time, and resources towards the achievement of a ‘greater-good’ and increasingly raise awareness about the significance of sustainability


Daly, H. E., & Farley, J. (2010). Ecological Economics. Principles and Applications (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Kote-Nikoi, N. (2005). Sustainability and Systems. 1-18.

Norgaard, R. B. (1994). Development Betrayed: The End of Progress and a Coevolutionary Revisioning of the Future. London: Routledge.