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Rethinking Sustainability: Are We Asking The Right Questions?

The environment is now at the top of everyone’s agenda with businesses and leaders wanting to be seen as the most ‘sustainable’. It is chic and fashionable to care about impact, but have you ever asked yourself what a genuine sustainable society looks like and what it really means for you and your business?

It has never been more important for organisations to take ESG and climate seriously, it is now deemed to be ‘good business sense’ to be seen as sustainable. Increased transparency of brands make authenticity and congruence essential for corporate reputation, or huge value can be lost in seconds.

There is a lot of confusion in terms of what makes something sustainable and how we measure the impact of everything we do. Most conversations are around granular details such as banning the use of some products only to be replaced by alternatives that are not necessarily more sustainable. It is as if we are desperately trying to repair the broken leaves on a deceased tree rather than nurturing the roots for new healthy leaves to grow back.

The complexity is enormous and until we understand the human mindset and psychology behind our drive to self-destruction we will never solve the catastrophic problem we are faced with. Is it time to elevate and challenge our thinking beyond just technology and science, and to also bring in philosophy and psychology to change the course of our fate? What kind of collaborative thinking do we need in order to imagine the future for humanity to continue its existence? What role will you play?

Current meaning and thoughts around sustainability

There is now little doubt that humanity is in danger of becoming extinct in its current form unless we use the Earth’s resources in a more sustainable way. But what does that look like?

In 1987 the Brundtland Report defined sustainability as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. But how do we address the present vast global inequality?

The most dominant approach used to address sustainability is the Triple Bottom Line - People, Profit, Planet - which tackles sustainability through the economic, environmental and social impact of business, where everything is assumed to have a price. But can everything be valued in purely financial terms?

The Value-Based approach includes both quantitative and qualitative factors. It believes that through a broad stakeholder engagement monetisation would be based on shared values and not emerge from purely market mechanisms favouring corporate and political interests. But how do we ensure that all voices are heard and incorporated and isn’t this a purely anthropocentric approach?

The role of philosophy and humans within the eco system

Humans are the centre of the environmental problems we are faced with, is it not therefore essential to understand the underlying philosophy and psychology behind our behaviour if we are going to change the cause of our fate?

All cultures and societies are shaped by values and beliefs as criteria for moral behaviour. The current Western framework can be traced back to the Enlightenment, where what counts as knowledge is science and technology rather than social-behaviour-based solutions, and rational rather than intuitive thought is the norm. It uses the language of property and economic rights, and believes that we can impose monetary values on everything.

More recent thoughts believe that environmental ethics should focus on systems and not just on individual things - our interconnectedness to everything. Natural beings and objects have intrinsic value, regardless of their practical value to humans.

Isn’t sustainability about finding a way to balance human's needs and wants with nature’s needs so that we achieve harmony? The balance of the forces in nature and the universe are happening naturally over long periods of time, but through technology and science, humans have accelerated the pace of change. This has been good in many ways and improved our lives but is now getting us out of balance and rapidly bringing us to extinction.

Keeping a balance of taking and replacing very much resonates with the Eastern philosophy of Taoism. The belief is that the universe is made up of a balance of Yin (roughly translated as passive, giving, intuitive, and feminine) and Yang (roughly translated as active, taking, rational and masculine). If we force one to be dominant, there will be consequences further down. The Dao, meaning ‘the Way’, explains it by the symbolism of a river with boulders. If we remove the boulders by force it will have consequences further down the river and maybe cause a flood. Whereas if we leave the stones, the water will flow over, under and after many years it will be washed away and the river will follow its natural course.

Human beings are the ones who impose pattern on the world. Therefore we should ask ourselves whether we have structured the world well and what we can do differently. When imagining and rebuilding our future how can we readdress this fundamental imbalance within ourselves, in business and within society and nature as a whole?

Psychology and a shift in consciousness - A Jungian perspective

The future of the planet is, for the first time, under the control of our conscious and reasoning as human beings. So for any kind of viable shared future, we must nurture an awareness and understanding of our impulses and behaviour. The way we perceive and understand ourselves is crucial in determining how we act and directly impacts how politics and economics shape our future. The Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist, Jung, argued that the state of our planet is an outer manifestation of our inner affliction. If our thoughts are polluted, then surely our actions and the consequences will be polluted too?

Eco-psychology emerging in the 90s examined how our attitudes and behaviours affect the environment. Jung, believed that the challenge lies in bringing as much light as possible into the unconscious, which is ultimately what drives our behaviour. He believed that it is our lack of wisdom and a lack of collective social and environmental consciousness that is the real danger to human existence.

Could the heart of our environmental crisis lie in the loss of connection and context? We have switched off our bodies natural contact with nature to our senses and the world around us. This is accelerated by a world ruled by technology, data and abstract ideas. We rely on our phones for information and to tell us when it is time to exercise, which direction to drive and when to turn down the volume. We forget to rely on our senses, awareness of the surroundings and our own bodily experiences. We are getting out of sync both in terms of ourselves and the ecosystem.

Although our lives are becoming more ‘efficient’, we stop noticing our surrounding and are losing touch with our intuition and the sense of urgency to the problem we are faced with. It is preventing us from fully experiencing and engaging with the world, which is giving us a limited human perspective.

How do we 'wake up’ and reconnect with our senses and wild inner nature again so that we can be reminded where we originally came from and belong to, before it is too late?

What can you do right now to start nurturing wisdom around sustainability?

Nurturing wisdom and a sustainable mindset begins with understanding what it means from all perspectives. The solution is not ‘out there’ but within each and every one of us. It starts with readdressing the balance within ourselves before it can manifest outside. Below are a few ideas how you can begin to nurture your own wisdom to help shape and imagine a sustainable future for business and society as a whole.

Broaden and nurture a curious mindset - Read and listen beyond your usual sources, step out of your echo chamber. Bring new topics like philosophy and psychology into your thoughts. After all, it is the human mindset and behaviour that is behind the crisis we are in.

Developing self-awareness - Reflect on how you react to people and events. Understand what your own values and beliefs are and why they are important to you, they are what drives your behaviour. Invest in some coaching to challenge you outside your usual boundaries and to help you connect and understand your own purpose and philosophy.

Bring regular pauses and stillness into your day - Create space for ‘nothingness’. This will help you nurture intuition and is where quality thinking and deep wisdom lies. Challenge yourself to take regular brief pauses in the day like meditation, a walk in nature, listening to calming music or just daydream in a comfortable quiet space.


You don’t need a qualification in sustainability to contribute wisdom to the climate crisis we are facing, we all have a role to play and it starts with knowing yourself better. Focus on building wisdom around sustainability, which is to see the depth within yourself to the whole from above, and listening to your intuition, being humble and brave to challenge the norm.

Please get in touch if you would like to explore and share your thoughts on how to start building your own wisdom and influence around sustainability


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