Sustainability is an aspirational and visionary principle. It is about enhancing the quality of our life on Earth without compromising the present or future needs of other people, other living things or the health of the Earth itself.
There are three broad pillars of sustainability:
- Social ~ well, inclusive and diverse people, families and communities
- Economic ~ meaningful, fair, responsible livelihoods and economies
- Environmental ~ resilient, beautiful and productive environments and planet
See Samuel Mann’s blog on “visualising sustainability” for a valuable compilation of different ways to visualise and describe sustainability.
What is or isn’t sustainable changes over time and varies between places. Consider human population for example. While rapidly rising global population is one the greatest challenges to sustainability today, many rural and regional areas are pursuing population growth as an opportunity or even a necessity for survival.
In turn, whether rural population growth is more or less sustainable depends upon how well they can improve their quality of life ~ socially and economically ~ without degrading the capacity of their natural environment. More likely than not they in fact need to improve their natural environment at the same time as improving their quality of life to be genuinely sustainable.
The drivers for sustainability are as much necessities ~ such as addressing violence and pollution ~ as they are opportunities ~ such as renewable energy and biomedical technology.
Clean, healthy, renewable and regenerative processes are rapidly becoming mature. Exponential advancements in communication, renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, collaborative governance and participatory decision-making are all being supported by a profound shift in human consciousness and capability.
We are undoubtedly within the midst of a great transition, but the drivers of this great transition aren’t all positive.
The great challenges upon us include dramatic rises in resource demand, peaking availability of physical resources such as oil, land and water as well as global-scale challenges such as climate change, cumulative toxicity, massive loss of biodiversity, the legacies of inter-generational trauma, continued conflict, poverty, global displacement and the associated loss of life and livelihoods.
The scenarios depicted from the Great Transition Initiative (below) highlight possible futures before us now.
Starfish’s sustainability initiatives and professional services are focused on enabling the great transition and realising the ‘new paradigm’. Starfish is of the view that only this possible future and change pathway is the only way to achieve genuine regional and global sustainability. The other pathways and possible futures have dire consequences for all life on Earth.
For Starfish, this ‘new paradigm’ is about creating distributed, networked and regenerative ways of providing for a quality life for people, and all of nature, to simply be.
- organising systems and models, particularly collaborative governance and creative communications
- community enterprises which provide for essential needs such as energy, transport, learning, food, housing, health, communications and nature
- cultures of being sustainable through leadership and learning
Starfish recognises that these new ways are inter-dependent with the current paradigm. It is not possible to create these without working with and within existing systems and organisations. At the same time though it is critically important to create relationships which are inter- rather than co- dependent.
This is a very real challenge, for it is in the nature of things that the existing paradigm resists, avoids and even fights against, change. New ways such as renewable energy, organic farming, democratic schooling and mutual-based financial service providers experience this resistance every day.