The Sustainability Challenge

How do I help people understand how important sustainability is, in a good and useful way?” We’ll explore a way to discuss the sustainability imperative in a way that is useful for engaging businesses, communities and individuals. It’s called the funnel metaphor, and it illustrates why we need to act on sustainability. Let’s get drawing!

Everybody has their own pet issue. Maybe it’s an environmental one: save the forests, save the whales, stop climate change…Or, maybe the issue is a social one: deal gap between rich and poor, get children off the street, changing public policy and create more jobs…The fact is, all these issues are related to the complex topic of sustainability – our capacity to survive and thrive as a race – and they all impact our ability to live, work and play on Planet Earth. When people ask, “why should I care about sustainability and what’s in it for me?” here is a metaphor that is helpful to describe the value of addressing what we might call, ‘the sustainability challenge.’

As population grows, technology changes and demand does too. We are consuming more and more natural resources. These are things like wood from forests, fish from the ocean and so on. At the same time, Earth’s capacity to provide what we need is declining; there are fewer forests and fish today than there were 100 years ago. This affects the ability of the planet to supply what we call ‘ecosystems services’ – things necessary to support life and on which we rely, things like climate regulation, water filtration, soil generation and so on.

Coupled with this is growing consumer awareness that expects new behavior from corporations and governments, governments who are changing laws and so on. And that is not all! Laws are getting stricter, abuse of power is rampant and growing inequality around the world is resulting in more social tension. All in all, there are a lot of pressure coming to bear on individuals, communities and businesses.

It looks like all these trends are converging right?! And we don’t want to see what happens if/when they meet. It is as if we were going forward in a funnel: the pressure is increasing overtime and we have less and less margin to maneuver. There isn’t one business or person I know who doesn’t feel these pressures. That’s why the funnel metaphor is helpful in explaining why we should act around sustainability: we need to relieve pressure.

There are hundreds of examples of countries and businesses hitting the walls of the funnel. Some recovered (like Nike after poor labor practices in sweatshops were exposed by Greenpeace). Some did not (like the Easter island civilization that collapsed). Some are still trying to recover (such as Greece or the city of Detroit for example).

This funnel metaphor also shows that there is no better time to act than NOW. Waiting only limits our options.

So, when people ask, “How do I help people understand how important sustainability is, in a good and useful way?” consider the metaphor of the funnel. What we need to do is stop the convergence of all those pressures and find a way through, then ideally, begin to ‘open the funnel’ walls to create a resilient, fulfilling and accessible society that can thrive within nature’s limits.

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