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In my professional life I am an environmental (associate) specialist. I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Sustainability in 2012.

In the media and in the business world, “sustainability” is often shrugged off as a buzzword. You often hear people ask “What does sustainability even mean, anyway?” This is why I’ve come prepared.

I’ve come to my own conclusion and definition of “sustainability”.

“Working and living to ensure the future health of the global natural environment.”

However, the word “sustainability” is problematic. A lot of people will role their eyes if I tell them I graduated with a degree or a specialized BBA in Sustainability. I don’t condemn them for it.

After all, in the world of capitalism, what does “environmental sustainability” have to do with business?

Secondly,  “sustainability” can be defined so many ways. For example, I got an email just yesterday that used the word, but in a completely different way from above. The email alluded to the other definition of sustainability in business – ensuring financial stability and success into the foreseeable future.

These two concepts, sustainability of the environment, and sustainability of a business, can be tied together in my second (and favourite) definition of Sustainability:

“Operating a business to ensure future financial stability and success, while concurrently ensuring that the business contributes to the future health of the global natural environment.”

I truly believe that successful businesses can integrate sustainability into their operations, or even business models. It may be hogwash to some, but I have studied multiple business cases in which the company has successfully grown their revenues and profits while actively minimizing their environmental impact.

I try to bring this to light at my work place, but it is tough when middle management is bogged down by the work of their immediate business goals. Protecting the environment is extra work, and takes a re-jigging of the business model or the way things operate, and it can take substantial amounts of time and thought to figure it out. But it can also produce unexpected and positive business results. To see an example, check out the Interface story, a very interesting case study in sustainable business models here:

http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Sustainability/Interface-Story.aspx

That’s all for now – How do you define sustainability?

 

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