One good, tangible measure of sustainability is the triple bottom line. The idea that we find ways to and enact on measuring equity (people), environment (place), and economics (profit) in equilibrium. We take each, and if one is failing – if we don’t make enough money for example, then we consider that we haven’t achieved a sustainable mark over the time in which we are measuring these indicators.
So, how sustainable are we in 2013? We have surpassed predicted carbon emissions, indicating we are on a road for disaster in an ever-changing climate induced world. Our recession still has a strangle hold making it hard for families to get ahead. And, we have reports every day – it seems – about another company cutting corners in such a way that its workers suffer the most egregious abuses.
And, in the midst of that, while working in an organization undergoing its own transition and struggle with change – the obvious thought reveals itself in startling clarity – we don’t value people.
Sustainability argues that we must hold these things: people, place, profit in tandem. We must balance them equally lest the three-legged stool topple over for ever more. And, what I have realized for the better part of the last 7 years is that we value equity least of all in this triptych. We grasp onto the things we can measure easily. We can measure if we made our profit – or not. We can measure if we planted enough trees – or not. These are easy things in which to define success.
But, when it comes to people, the number of indicators to use grows exponentially. What do we measure? Do we measure wages? Do we measure healthcare? Do we measure access to healthcare? Do we measure … happiness? In a sense, I think it boils down to the latter. This ubiquitous, moving thing that is difficult for an economist to measure strictly against a black and white line… so instead of trying, as a society, we just don’t.
Then it rears its ugly head in contract negotiations, workplace equity, overall societal health. It impacts the never-ending challenge of balance between work and family life – because we chase the greasy buck instead of the success of the people earning the buck. It turns loyal people unloyal. It makes people seek autonomy elsewhere. It creates and fosters toxic work environments where blame is placed haphazardly, and instead of listening to the real problems – petulant children are blamed and then reinforced the excuse on why we don’t need to listen.
So, where are we in 2013? Where is our equity? I would say it is far away, despite recent Supreme Court rulings and in spite of recent Supreme Court rulings. I would say there is more of this conversation to have – where we need to collectively assess our values, envision work-life balance in harmony, and propel ourselves to a future we do want to pass onto our children.