The Three Spheres of Sustainability

The Three Spheres of Sustainability

Don’t you love the perennial cocktail party question: “So, what do you DO?” Insert the standard responses: business, medicine, government, nonprofit. Instead, I think there is a better approach: “Will you tell me more about what impact you create through your work?” The latter opens the conversation to one of vision, opportunity and the future.

Over the next few months, we’ll be jumping into a variety of subjects that cover the broad field of sustainability. Answering what it is, why it matters and perhaps most importantly, how you can participate. Topics will range from water and energy to justice and equity; government and business innovation to recycling and transportation. My overall goal is to link people to practical insight and advice on how to create impact. 

While some may think that sustainability is a term reserved only for the patchouli-wearing lovers of the Lorax, I’ll offer a different framework and lens. Sustainability is – at its core – balancing our environmental, social and economic realms to create opportunity, beauty and prosperity. Think of this in three Venn Diagrams (above). You remember those, right? Your sixth-grade teacher said that they may one day save your life (insert eye roll). Well, now is the time.

Sustainability isn’t about one area or the other, but a conscience effort to find opportunity in viewing our economy, society and environment as a complete and holistic system.

Sustainability isn’t a new thing or concept. In fact, some great American heroes talked about sustainability hundreds of years ago. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, said, “I say that the earth belongs to each generation during its course…No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”

We can also invoke one of our great western and conservative advocates, Theodore Roosevelt, in understanding the role of our natural and economic worlds, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” 

Fast forward to today: every single Fortune 500 company has a chief sustainability officer, director, or equivalent. Our domestic and global capital markets believe that sustainability grows revenue, reduces risk and advances the brand. Investment houses like BlackRock and State Street now view sustainability as a guiding thesis of investment strategy and performance. 

As to the original question, “What do I do?” I’ll answer it by saying “I create, empower and unleash Change Agents in businesses, governments and communities to create an economically prosperous, socially-just and environmentally-beautiful future for all.” 

And now you, my fellow Arcadians, will learn a bit more about being a change agent for Phoenix and beyond by thinking and acting in a more sustainable manner. 

 If you have questions, comments, or subjects you’d like to discuss, reach out through this newspaper:

— Colin Tetreault is a Corporate Sustainability Practitioner and

Principal at S2 Consulting, LLC.