The Sustainability Elevator Pitch

July 18, 2011

Do you ever get asked "what is sustainability?" or "how do you define sustainability?"

I sure do and those are not easy questions to answer in under a minute, much less in a few sentences.  So I have put together my best quick elevator pitch.  So if you ever do get caught in the elevator (or the grocery store or at a backyard cookout) and get those questions, please feel free to borrow from this: 

The generally accepted definition of “sustainability” is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  This definition was established by the Brundtland Commision Report to the UN in 1987.   This nebulous definition is most succinctly and specifically clarified by the Global Footprint Network (GPN). 

The GPN has determined that our global consumption is outpacing and outstripping the Earth’s ability to annually regenerate natural resources.  In essence, this is a supply and demand issue.  If put into recognizable units, the Earth regenerates 100 units of natural resources per year and our global demand is now approximately 150 units.  This condition is referred to as “Overshoot”, and it is unsustainable for human economic activity. 

Overshoot poses a multitude of mid-term and long-term businesses issues for risk adverse companies - most notably, shortages in supply of natural resources and price volatility in natural resource markets.  These are key internal business issues and are reason enough to warrant significant and comprehensive attention to sustainability in business strategy development and execution.

On the external side, more and more consumers are becoming aware of sustainability issues and are increasingly looking to and expecting business to lead the way out of Overshoot.  These “green” consumers focus on a company’s overall environmental performance and/or specifically the environmental performance of its products.  Most consumer surveys show that this segment of the population is somewhere in the range of 8-15%, which is most certainly significant in terms of generating new revenue streams.

For business, when it comes to “sustainability”; mitigating risk, lowering costs, generating revenue, and, of course, creating good and positive PR are all at stake.




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