Is Sustainability Analogous to Economics?

At Green Gov 2011 this morning I facilitated a lively panel that included discussion of what is  sustainability and what is the role of the sustainability profession. Ira Feldman (Greentrack Strategies), Terry Yosie (World Environment Center) and Valerie Patrick (Bayer Corporation) were our panelists and came with a rich set of views and experience.

The discussion of what is sustainability was broad and philosophical using terms like ‘systems thinking’ and ‘form of art’. But many people in the room (myself included) had sustainability jobs, with specific job descriptions and objectives.  So what can we compare that to?

The more I think about it, the more I think that economics is a valuable analogy.  Economics is a broad topic about interrelationships and systems. I am sure you would find proponents of economics as a science and other proponents of economics as an art. Just like our discussion about sustainability.

And in companies you will find CFOs, accountants and accounts payable people. Just as you will find CSOs, corporate responsibility teams and energy management teams. And as the presence of finance folks doesn’t relinquish the rest of the company from the obligation to pay attention to cost and profit, so the presence of the sustainability folks doesn’t relinquish everyone else from the obligation to pay attention to the risk and opportunities of sustainability.

In so many ways I see sustainability  as analogous to economics. But where today we judge the success of so much through money and finance, sustainability asks us to take so much more into account in judging success of an organization or activity. Not just  financial impact, but a broad array of impacts on a broad array of stakeholders. 

Perhaps sustainability is not just analogous to economics. Perhaps it needs to take it on!

Posted November 4, 2011 in CR Blogin Sustainability