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Sustainability thinking doesn’t stand still

When it comes to sustainability thinking, there’s one thing we can say with certainty. It doesn’t stand still. New ideas. New ways of looking at how we interact with each other and with our physical environment. New approaches to how we can put right what we’ve put wrong in the past. For example…

Following on from its 2011 film Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a new animation earlier this year illustrating one example of the type of new business model required to make a circular – i.e. sustainable – economy work. The Circular Economy: From Consumer to User highlights how a change of approach from buying goods to buying the use of those goods (or the services they provide) could result in significant benefits for customers and the businesses that serve them at the same time as reducing the waste of resources and energy that is effectively built-in to our present economic model.

In many respects it isn’t a new idea – indeed, it’s not that long ago that people had to rent rather than buy simply because the goods couldn’t be produced cheaply enough – and nor is it presented here as a one-size-fits-all solution. However, imaginative thinking around types of service and types of contract could deliver triple bottom line gains – economic, social and environmental.

And talking of the triple bottom line, a recent post on the Emergent Futures TumbleLog refers to work undertaken by an international team suggesting that the classic three pillars model of sustainable development – our triple bottom line – is flawed and outdated. Led by Professor David Griggs of Monash University in Australia, the team has put forward an alternative model based on six goals: Thriving lives and livelihoods; Food security; Water security; Clean energy; Healthy and productive ecosystems; Governance for sustainable societies.

One could argue that it isn’t immediately obvious what the six goals include that the triple bottom line doesn’t cover. But new thinking that clarifies the critical issues we face is always to be welcomed.

As is (although maybe not by all) the concept of ‘disruptive sustainability’ raised recently in a GreenBiz blog. Again, the idea is not new. There are several well-cited examples of businesses fundamentally transforming what they did or how they did it in order to deliver triple bottom line benefits in ways that had previously seemed unimaginable. But whilst the idea may not be new in itself, its power lies in its catalytic potential to drive new ideas. And that’s really the point. If we truly want a secure future, we have to keep thinking. And thinking creatively. Because only creative thinking can lead to innovative, effective action.

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