We've all heard the word sustainability. It is almost inescapable in today's language, yet most have not taken the time to think about what it means. The most widely held belief is that sustainability is a process of making decisions to achieve a triple bottom line: economic growth, societal advancement, and environmental improvement or protection. This involves the ability to know enough about a problem to balance the competing interests inherent to the triple bottom line to reach the best solutions given the current conditions and perceived needs of society.
"Knowing enough about a problem," according to Sarah Stokes of the Keystone Center, a leadership group that works with key executives and decision-makers, "is about getting the information right, which means learning about a problem, formulating a vision and turning it into action." To some, this means nothing more than an exercise in quantitative risk management and cost benefit analysis. Those more grounded in the complexity of real life, know that the trouble with sustainability is that we currently don't, and probably never will, have the ability to clearly identify and quantify multifaceted problems, let alone solutions. What we have learned is that the quantitative approach is an insufficient mechanism that, if relied upon exclusively, risks delaying the understanding of a societal problem and possibly getting it wrong, in an effort to exhaust empirical sources of data before making a decision.