Reflections on the State of Sustainability

You’ve heard the joke. If you ask me how my marriage was going and I say “sustainable”, you’d think it was….

So let’s all admit that the word doesn’t get us very far. And yet…

  • The Global Reporting Initiative says nearly 2000 companies around the world are using their guidelines to create sustainability reports;
  • Niles Barnes at AASHE tells me that  there were plans for a total of 130 new sustainability-focused academic programs in the US in 2010, up from 113  in ’09, 66 in’08, 27 in’07. Just Google sustainability and Haas, Sloan, Wharton, Tuck, Fuqua, Kenan-Flagler or any other of the top business schools in America and see what you get.
  • Dr. Walter Leal from Hamburg University of Applied Sciences estimates that, worldwide. there are more than 10,000 bachelor and advanced degrees being handed out this spring have the word “sustainability” somewhere in the title.
  • The companies on the  6th annual Global 100 list of “most sustainable companies” represent over 4 trillion dollars in value and employ more than three million people. GE, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, P&G, etc., etc.
  • A survey of 3000 business executives at such companies by MIT/Sloan Management Review found that 59% of respondents were increasing their commitments to sustainability this year.

All this tells us that sustainability is flourishing despite a global recession/depression and a widespread and enduring belief by many Americans that “global warming is a liberal hoax ginned up to justify higher taxes and tyrannical government” (Jullian Brookes writing in Rolling Stone).  Maybe it’s time to agree that, yes, it is a godawful word. But for all its faults, sustainability may be emerging as the most dynamic business force of our young century.


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