Moving Beyond "Sustainababble"

What’s the definition of sustainability? A single definition is difficult to nail down, but the Marlboro College Graduate School has created a model that begins to answer this question and strives to provide a framework for what sustainability means from the perspective of business leadership.

What they created is called the Sustainability Continuum, and its creators “set out to devise a framework that could in some way accommodate and position the origins and evolution of sustainability theory and practice over time, including in the future to the extent we are comfortable in making such predictions” says Bill Baue, who teaches in the Managing for Sustainability MBA program at Marlboro and helped create the model. The circular model takes an essentially chronological approach that identified 6 distinct phases of sustainability thought and practice with the goal of recording significant stages in the development of the concept of “sustainability."

Starting with the “Kinship" phase, depicting a long-ago time when humans were deeply connected with the natural world around them, the model moves through “Conquest," where humanity began to exploit the physical world for societal gain and “Mitigation," when eco-efficiency concepts and adaptation initiatives appeared in technology and engineering. The “Sustainability” phase begins in the 21st century, when sustainable practices became more prevalent because of social, economic and biophysical considerations, and the “Flourishing” phase asks businesses how they can move beyond “doing no harm” to a stage of positive and thriving growth in the future. The final stage, “Emergence,” looks ahead and serves as a placeholder for an uncertain, but hopeful, future of positive development.

The Sustainability Continuum fits well with the ideals behind the MBA in Managing for Sustainability, which addresses sustainability in each of its courses through a different lens and in two more overt sustainability courses, ensuring students receive solid training in the practice of sustainability itself.

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