Is Sustainability Naked?


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In the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, almost everyone is willing to go along with the emperor’s delusion. Only a child is willing to say the emperor is walking around naked. “Out of the mouths of babes…”

There are a growing number of intelligent adults who have concluded that (corporate) sustainability is either dead, walking around naked, or simply not up to the task. I am seeing, perhaps because I am looking for, more and more critiques and alternatives to “conventional” approaches to (corporate) sustainability. Below are a few of the recent ones that stand out for me. Some common themes include:

  • Our current approach to sustainability will not get us to where we want, and need, to go
  • “Sustainability” has been appropriated by the dominant culture to align with non-sustainable goals
  • We need to rethink our overall goals and strategies

Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption

Patagonia’s founder and CEO, Yvon Chouinard, talks with Joel Makower at the 2013 GreenBiz Forum on authenticity, responsibility and sustainability (video)

John Elkington/Volans
Book: The Zeronauts – Breaking though the sustainability barrier.
Breakthrough Capitalism – a program for people to engage with the idea of businesses creating system-level change

John Ehrenfeld and Andrew Hoffman
The wrong-headed solutions of corporate sustainability

As Dana Meadows so eloquently pointed out many years ago (“Places to Intervene in a System“), changing the goals of a system is one of the most powerful ways of intervening in that system to change outcomes. It’s clear that sustainability has NOT changed the goals of our global economic system. Until that happens, can we really expect to see meaningful change?

About Duncan Noble

Duncan Noble explores #sustainability #climate & #carbon. Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act. Tell the Truth and Live the Truth.
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2 Responses to Is Sustainability Naked?

  1. Here’s another one to add to your list: Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity without growth”, in which he dissects all our assumptions about how the economy works, and concludes that sustainability and economic growth are incompatible. Then he constructs an alternative basis for the economy that does not depend on growth. It’s a fascinating read, but it does require us to let go of almost every mainstream idea about how the capitalist system works.


    • Duncan Noble says:

      Thanks for that. I am now reading two books with the same title “The End of Growth”. One is by Jeff Rubin, a former chief economist at investment bank CIBC World Markets. He is convinced that expensive oil will end growth, and he is pretty convincing. It’s an easy read. He is doing/did a book tour with David Suzuki. Strange bedfellows. The second “The End of Growth” is more challenging and is by Richard Heinberg, of the Post Carbon Institute. I’m only partway into this book, but he does reference Tim Jackson’s work, approvingly. I’ll look into Jackson’s book. Thanks again for the suggestion. Letting go of assumptions and paradigms is a recurring theme here – it is the highest ranked way to intervene in a system, according to Meadows.


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