Beyond Sustainability - Part I

What if we were in business to be pro-planet? Imagine if we used ‘sustainable’ as a baseline rather than a goal. What if we applied this approach to agriculture, land management, and urban planning - where the focus shifts from minimizing harm to actively enhancing the capacity of the land to sustain us? What if the bottom line was breakeven - and the top line was better AND profitable?

Is this an adjustment to a more accurate true north or do we need to blow it up and start over?

Let’s dive in a little…..

Sustainability is derived from the root --sustain


[ suh-steyn ]

verb (used with object)

  1. to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure.

  2. to bear (a burden, charge, etc.).

Sustain is a verb - which if we remember back to Mrs. Werth’s 5th grade English class we’re reminded is an action word. We do this actively, not something we are or have.

When we add the -ability to do it - the word becomes a noun:


[ suh-stey-nuh-bil-i-tee ]

Environmental Science. the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.

Now it’s a thing. Not only is it a thing, but it’s also a thing we might have an opinion about?!? It’s a subjective thing.

As the kids say, “That hits different” for me.

‘To bear a burden or hold up from below’ does not feel the same as ‘not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources….and supporting long-term ecological balance.’ To me - ‘sustain’ sounds really, really important to keep doing- like, foundational to structure. I’m not certain anyone would argue (or politicize) the benefits of having a solid foundational structure.

So what if we substitute sustainable for break-even? What comes after we agree to re-establish foundational practices? We reset goals, of course. We’re not doing this to get by - we’re doing this to profit. This is about outcomes. So what’s the opposite of just getting by?


[ thrahyv ]

*verb (used without object),*thrived or throve  [throhv], thrived or thriv·en  [thriv-uhn], thriv·ing.

  1. to prosper; be fortunate or successful.

  2. to grow or develop vigorously; flourish:The children thrived in the country.

Now we’re talking!


thrahy-ving ]


  1. prospering or doing well; highly successful:The Arts Commission plans to expand its thriving ArtSmart program into all 21 of the city’s elementary schools.

  2. growing or developing vigorously; flourishing:

Once again, we have a word problem to solve. Right now in business, “sustainability” is primarily seen as a risk rather than an opportunity. A simple search for greenwashing takes us down the path of false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay action. Misleading the public, in many ways, uses more energy than simply doing the right thing. The problem compounds because organizations have to defend themselves - gobbling up resources that could otherwise be deployed for the simple foundational purpose of sustaining.

So where does this leave us?

Well - if we’re committed to sustainability - we have a responsibility to use the words properly. If misused, our actions become part of the problem. If we reset the discussion of sustainability to mean foundational then agree to set that waypoint - we have a chance. Remember, there are no maps for explorers, only compasses.

From this collective agreement on the foundational approach, the needle points us toward restorative and (hopefully) regenerative. We won’t go backwards, because we have direction - we’re oriented. Not only that, but we’ve agreed to view sustaining as foundational - the base not the goal.

So from sustain to thrive and sustainability to thriving - it’s time we add this discussion to our list.

The intended outcome is better, not more. There’s more to better than just more.

Song pairing?! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼

Part two of this series will address regenerative practices and, of course, consumption.

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