The Big Idea

May 23, 2011 at 10:59 am 5 comments

Ever wonder why there are so many problems in the world?  Why there continues to be homelessness, hunger and illiteracy?  Why do both parents have to work just to make ends meet leaving no time for their children?  Why are 3 billion people still in poverty?  It could be that our solutions to our problems are not comprehensive, but one dimensional.  Well, this little picture might help us understand why we are plagued by problems and how we can deal with them.

For most people sustainability is a very vague word, but It is actually very specific and a very big idea with big implications.  The three circles represent the environmental, social and economic dimensions that make up our world and the range of options available to us.  According to the picture, what is “sustainable” is where the circles overlap.   It reveals some really big ideas that are hard to disagree with.

  • CHOOSE: The picture shows us that many options exist, but truly sustainable choices are fewer in number.  The world we live in today is focused on mostly economic concerns and usually ignores social or environmental interests.  Yes, we’ve created a machine that seems to be working, but is it really?
  • TAKE ACTION:Sustainability will not “just happen”. On our current path, we will become more aware and more “green”, but a civilization based on consumption is ultimately unsustainable. Sustainability requires us to make different choices from the ones we are making and it will be assembled from our thoughtful choices as a global community.
  • ACCEPT INEVITABILITY: The very logic of sustainability can be a tough one to swallow, but I’m just the messenger: As a species, we will eventually choose sustainable solutions because they are the only choices that insure our survival as a civilization over time.  The only reason we will choose unsustainable systems is because of short-sighted interests.
  • WIN/WIN: The great news is that there are solutions that can accommodate all three interests!  Sustainable solutions do not make economics more important than our happiness nor the environment.  It almost seems magical that all three concerns are resolved together!  No interest outweighs or competes with another.
  • HAPPINESS: And, to be sustainable, the solutions will all be ones that we like, otherwise they are unsustainable!

The world seems adrift.  The “haves” are not content and want more meaning out of life, while the “have-nots” continue to struggle in the wake of those who “have”.  We will only find greater meaning in life when we recognize that it comes through serving a purpose beyond ourselves – our fellow man, our common future.  The interesting thing is that if we ask ourselves what we truly value and the type of world we want for our children, it looks very much like what a sustainable world offers us.


Entry filed under: Design, Economics, Environment, People, Philosophy, Sustainability, Thoughts. Tags: , .

Where Sustainability Becomes Philosophy Effective Government

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Harnew  |  May 23, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Interesting! I like what you said about the “haves” and “have-nots.” That’s true. Forever chasing satisfaction.

  • 2. Janelle Odorico  |  March 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Great way to explain the importance of sustainability. I’ve never looked at it this way, but I’ve definitely recognized the power of a holistic approach; relying solely on technology isn’t going to change the way the majority of people live.

  • 3. T. Caine  |  March 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    I think I buy that. I like the venn diagram as a graphic tool. It seems like a variation of the People, Planet, Profit model, but in my opinion a better one given that the PPP mantra seems to focus on trying to wrench too much of our current model into a sustainable reality.

    At the same time, I think holistic center of the diagram represents a goal more than a path to get there. Given where we are now, I would argue that the yellow and the red zones (overlaps between environment and either economic or social) represent areas that have to be seized as a first step. There are plenty of measures that are smart that are not economically attractive right now. Most recycling programs in the country do not yet run at a profit, or break even for that matter, but that is not to say they couldn’t eventually when our system is better attuned to utilizing them. There may be environmental measures that are inconvenient in the eyes of societal norms, but that doesn’t mean they’re not productive or progressive. Maybe someday we’ll be within striking distance of that elusive center.

    That being said, I agree with your five points though I think that still puts us in the minority.

    In reading through your blog, I feel like we come from a very similar direction and touch on similar issues. Great topic.

  • 4. dfwcanadianchamber  |  June 28, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Good article! Very educational.

  • 5. publicutilitymanagement  |  July 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I like the diagram and content. The policy question is how do we align these different constituencies?


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