Beyond the Buzzword: Sustainability

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As many of you know, I’m pretty heavily involved in the non-profit scene. My day job, my volunteer job, my past job, all were in the non-profit sector. Most of my friends work for non-profits, and I often find myself writing needs statements, crafting newsletters, and obsessing about how hard or soft to make an ask–in my sleep.

Lately my do-gooder friends and I have been talking a lot about non-profit philosophy, asking questions like, “Why are non-profits defined by what they don’t do (make money) instead of by what they accomplish? When is a non-profit really self-sustaining? Is sustainability even the point? Aren’t we supposed to work ourselves out of a job?” 

My head is swirling with unresolved questions and answers and ideas, which means, per usual, I will be attempting to work them out by writing them out. 

And so write, I did. A couple days I ago I shared my thoughts on one of today’s biggest buzzwords, sustainability, on the SERES blog, an incredible non-profit where I’m spending my days here in Guatemala.

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I write,

“The big buzzword in both the development world and the green movement today is sustainability.

If only we could get our development to be sustainable, our lifestyles to be sustainable, our projects and impacts and businesses to be sustainable.

But from where I live in Guatemala, I look around at the shoe shine boys in the park, dark polish staining their hands, at the families who curl up to sleep outside, at the little girl selling sweets to tourists during school hours. I look at the horrifying statistics of poverty and malnutrition in the region and wonder who in their right mind would want to sustain or preserve, protect or conserve, this status quo.

Instead of focusing on sustainability, shouldn’t we first work toward creating a quality of life that’s worth sustaining?”

Check out the rest of the post, Beyond Sustainable, here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas and non-tax-deductible two-cents on the topic of sustainability and world-building and do-gooding, whether here on Memoirs of Algeisha or over at SERES.

How do you help build a world that’s worth sustaining? Do you think sustainability should be our ultimate goal as non-profits and businesses, as  families and individuals? What’s your experience with the non-profit world? 

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One thought on “Beyond the Buzzword: Sustainability

  1. rebecanne says:

    My two cents:

    A few NC people (including myself) have been having a similar/related discussion, based on this video: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong.html?awesm=on.ted.com_Pallotta&utm_content=awesm-publisher&utm_medium=on.ted.com-static&utm_campaign&utm_source=facebook.com. I agree with Dan Pallotta’s premise that there’s a problem with dichotomizing organizations into “for-profit = for the good of me” and “non-profit = for the good of the world”, but I don’t think the answer is necessarily to just find ways to raise more money for non-profits. (Feel free to argue with me on this point.)

    Maybe this just shows a lack of understanding on my part of the legal/economic reasoning/implications behind creating the distinction in the first place, but I think that dividing up the world world this way is a big mistake. I think it lets a lot of people/businesses think they’re off the hook when it comes to caring about “sustainability” because they are a “for-profit”. They then (sometimes unwittingly) end up exploiting the rest of the world, which is what creates the “need” for a lot of non-profits in the first place.

    Bottom line: I think that ALL organizations – for-profits especially – should be striving towards “the triple bottom line” (ie what’s good for me AND the good of the world).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj8CJ5I2R5Q (the official music video is a little risque for my taste)

    Can I still get a receipt for that?

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