Monday, February 4, 2013

What is Sustainability - and what does it have to do with Happiness?

Posted by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of The Happiness Initiative.

My first book just got published.  Its called "How to Account for Sustainability: A guide to measuring and managing."  People ask me - isn't happiness a departure for sustainability?
For me - no! We can't have ecological sustainability without human's being able to meet their needs.

Two years ago I met the originator of The Natural Step and asked him "Why is the last principle - that humans must meet their basic needs - not first? (The first three principles focus on conserving and protecting nature - see below for more.). He responded that people were not ready for that when he created the concepts.  Ah,  but it has always been clear to me that we must take care of people first, and if people are happy - truly happy (not just hedonistic pleasure but deep down happy) then they will naturally take care of the planet and each other.
The other clear link between happiness and sustainability is how you define it. To me, both are comprehensive. With that, here are some definitions of sustainability I will use in my second book:

Corporate Social Responsibility:  
Term initially used in 1960s in the context of charitable contributions and 1970’s in the context of environmental initiatives beyond compliance.   

Corporate Responsibility
Possibly initially used by accountants in place of Corporate Social Responsibly to indicate inclusion of environmental and economic performance.

From Latin sustinere meaning to maintain, to support, to nourish.

Sustainable Development
The United Nation’s used the term when establishing the Brundtland Commission in 1983. Denotes interconnection of development activities across all systems: economic, social, environmental, political, technical, international, administrative, and production.

Used in terms of the environment to indicate taking responsibility for natural resources, often through conservation and restoration activities. Used also for a good or service through management of environmental impacts.  

Corporate Citizenship
Term used by the legal field in 1990s in lieu of corporate social responsibility largely to encompass charitable and political activities. Note that the US Supreme Court rejected corporations as citizens in Bank of Augusta v. Earle, 13 Peters 519 (1839), but decided that corporations are artificial personhoods with some, but not all, constitutional rights in Santa Clara Railroad Co., 118 US 394 (1886). 

Ethical Business
Refers to the goods, services, or the way the business is run, as inherently ethical.

Business Ethics
Refers to the manner in which a business makes a profit. Business ethics came into focus with the Enron and WorldCom scandals and the ensuing Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2000. Issues of focus in relation to business ethics include compliance with accounting rules, anti-discrimination laws, trade laws (anti-competitive behavior, deceptive practices, price fixing), product safety laws, intellectual property laws, laws against bribery, standards against slave and child labor, et-cetera.

Three-Legged Stool
A metaphor for environmental, social and economic responsibility. Brought into use by the social responsibility investment (SRI) community in the 1990s.

Triple Bottom Line
Refers to environmental, social and economic performance, or the “three pillars” of responsible business.  John Elkington, author of Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (1997) is attributed with coining the term. Other terms for the triple bottom lines are (1) Economy, Equity, Environment, and (2) Environmental, Social and Economic Responsibility (3) Profit People, Planet.

Profit, People, Planet
Popular term for the triple bottom line. People refers to human capital and covers labor issues and community interactions. Planet refers to natural capital and covers environmental impact of processes, goods and services. Profit refers to all economic benefits. 

Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
A set of processes and practices for managing environmental impacts. EMS systems vary based on areas of focus i.e., water, waste, purchasing, design. Most are based on the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” model. Planning includes identifying impacts and goals, doing includes implementation, checking includes monitoring and adjusting, and acting includes reviewing and changing the EMS.  Popular EMS systems are the ISO 14001 series, Design for the Environment Program (DfE) and others supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.

ISO 14001 series
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) EMS.  ISO 14001 series comprises of over 10 standards, covering labeling, evaluation, communications, and greenhouse gasses. ISO 14001 series is based on the “plan, do, check, act” platform and allows for certification.

ISO 26000
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) emerging standard for social responsibility. Encompasses social, environmental and economic performance.

Green Business
Used to define a business that goes beyond compliance. Also used for a business that contributes toward sustainable development such as alternative energy, organics, fair labor goods, products made from recycled materials.

First used by Simon Zadek, founder of AccountAbility, an NGO established by in 1996 to promote accountability and sustainability, to indicate transparency to stakeholders.  

Cleaner Production
Originated in the Kyoto Protocol and was further developed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a component of a Life Cycle Assessment.  A methodology to reduce waste and toxins to humans and the environment in production processes. 

The Natural Step
A non-profit founded in 1989 to accelerate sustainability. The Natural Step introduced “backcasting” whereby the desired outcomes guide short term decisions. The Natural Step Framework sets out four systems conditions for sustainability: (1) Substances from Earth’s crust cannot be systematically extracted at a faster rate than they are re-deposited.  (2) Substances produced by society cannot be systematically produced at a faster rate than they are broken down by nature. (3) Natural resources cannot be systematically deteriorated for production so that natural system’s ability to regenerate falls behind. (4) Human needs must be met world wide. 

Ecological footprint
A measurement of human consumption of natural resources and the resultant waste against nature’s regenerative ability.  Sometimes defined in terms of trees or acres of a grain that it would take to support a particular lifestyle over a specified amount of time.

1 comment:

  1. Sustainability is all about keeping balance at the expense of meeting globally accepted set of standards. Happiness follows as one meets all the requirements and continuously provide quality service. ISO certificates are more than just requirements, but it's a measuring stick that determines whether a company is progressing or not.

    -Barton Wilson @ IsaRegistrar