Intro

Here is the original Table of Contents, preface and introduction to Sustainability is for Everyone (first edition, © 2013 by Alan AtKisson):

CONTENTS

Before we begin …………………………………………………………. 1

About this book………………………………………………………….. 3

What sustainability brings to the party……………………………. 6

Sustainability, Big and Small………………………………………. 10

How do you talk to a _________ about sustainability?…….. 13

How not to talk about sustainability……………………………… 16

“Take-out sustainability”…………………………………………….. 18

Sustainability = Quality ……………………………………………… 22

Sustainability and resilience………………………………………… 26

The burden of knowledge…………………………………………… 28

“Doing” sustainability ………………………………………………… 30

Against “sustainable consumption”………………………………. 33

Sustainability and optimism ……………………………………….. 35

Invisible sustainability ……………………………………………….. 38

A few things to watch out for………………………………………. 41

The future of sustainability work………………………………….. 44

About the author …………………………………………………….. 48

For more information ………………………………………………….49

[Preface]

Before we begin …

Imagine that you have a childhood friend with whom you kept in contact into your adult years. You had great affection for each other in childhood, so it bothered you when this friend began smoking. Later you noticed that your friend was smoking more, and also drinking more alcohol. Lately, your friend has also developed a bad gambling habit, and has asked to borrow money from you. You can see the trend in your friend’s life: things cannot go on this way. Either health, or personal economy, or family will eventually reach a breaking point. The results will be tragic. So you want somehow to intervene. You want to help this friend change direction, and live a more healthy, happy, and balanced life.

In a word, you want your friend’s life to become more sustainable.

For this is what sustainability means, at its most basic level: a way of life — for individual people, families, communities, companies, nations, even our whole global civilization — that does not seem inevitably destined for a crash. A way of life where our needs and wants as human beings, and nature’s needs for care and balance, are not in conflict with each other. A way of life where our resources are managed well, and the big, obvious risks are avoided. A way of life that can continue for generations, providing everyone on this Earth with a chance to enjoy a good life, while contributing to the greater good.

This is the sustainability vision in a nutshell. People who work for sustainability — whether they are professionals in the field, or simply dedicated to making positive change, whatever profession they follow — usually feel something like the person described above, who wants to help a friend find a better life. Because allowing dangerous trends to run their course, without intervention, is simply unthinkable.

If you also feel this way, even a tiny bit, then this book is for you.

*  *  *

[Introduction]

About this book

The purpose of this little book is to inspire you.

I have been working professionally in sustainability for 25 years. That is a long time, and I have worked hard during that time to promote the vision and the practice of sustainability. I have given hundreds of speeches, presentations and workshops, in 44 countries; created tools and methods for spreading sustainability (tools which have themselves spread into many countries); trained hundreds of other sustainability professionals and change agents (to help them spread sustainability); published books and articles; and consulted to large companies, governments, cities, NGOs, and the United Nations. I have even written songs about sustainability.

In 2013, I was elected into the Sustainability Hall of Fame™, by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.[1]

To mark the occasion — because the event organizers asked me to “share some wisdom” from my experience —  I wrote this small book. In reality, the book is an essay, a word originally meaning “attempt”. Partly, I am attempting to make up for the fact that I do not really feel worthy of such distinctions. Yes, I have worked hard, but there is so much more that needs to be done; others have worked harder. Also, this book is an attempt to say a few things about sustainability — its past, present, and future — that do not fit well into other forms of writing. The first-person essay allows one to mix thoughts and feelings, reflections and advice, in a very personal way, which is perfect for what I have to say.

The essay is also a good place to share some warnings and regrets.

Why would I write about warnings and regrets, in an essay-book intended to inspire you? Because I have encountered a few situations in my professional life that were troublesome, and I would like to help you — as an aspiring or experienced sustainability worker — to avoid such trouble yourself. I want to share some insights that have helped me along the way, but I also want you to learn from my mistakes; for in fact, there is usually more learning in failure than in success.

Mostly, I want to get a specific message across, and I want to ask you to help me spread that message.

Here is the principal message of this book:

Sustainability is for everyone.

This is a simple statement, but it has profound implications. For the past several decades, sustainability — and many other words and concepts that are attached to it — has been the hearth fire for a relatively small but highly engaged group of professional researchers, managers, activists, teachers, and consultants.  And since the phrase “sustainable development” was first formally introduced to the world in 1987, by a United Nations commission chaired by Norway’s then-prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, it has slowly gathered more and more people around that fire.

When “old-timers” like me look around, we get a wonderful feeling, because there are so many more of us now, all gathered around that beautiful, idealistic flame. Compared to the “old days,” the gathering now seems truly enormous.

But the growth of this special gathering is also a problem. For sustainability should not be something that is set apart, something that only special, highly engaged people can understand, talk about, work with. Sustainability is not a secret knowledge.

Sustainability is for everyone.

Sustainability means making the world work. For everyone. And that means that it is time for us to leave this special gathering, take this wonderful flame of sustainability, and carry it into the world.

And take it with us everywhere.

This book sets forward a few ideas and suggestions for how to make sustainability more universally accessible, without watering it down or changing its meaning. The book is meant to start a conversation, and to help further accelerate a trend that is already happening: the normalization of sustainability thinking and practice into every area of life.

For those of us who are sustainability workers, that is our ultimate goal. Looking backward, we have come a long distance. Looking forward, we have far to go, and there remain many obstacles in our path. Chief among these is the fact that sustainability itself is still not easy to communicate — and not everyone knows they need it.

But as more and more people know, or at least feel, they do need it. The whole world needs sustainability, and fast. So here are some thoughts about how to overcome that obstacle and take sustainability more effectively into those places where it is most needed.

We have to make sustainability something that is not just for us — the people who identify themselves as “sustainability people” — but for everyone.


[1] I was very touched and honored by this distinction — though I must note that the phrase “sustainability hall of fame” seems almost an oxymoron. If one works in sustainability, one is anything but famous. But I deeply thank the jury of the ISSP for placing me in the company of other people whose work and life-examples have been inspirations to me; and I acknowledge, gratefully, that I would never have received this distinction had I not been mentored, coached, and befriended by some of the most brilliant sustainability minds on the planet, especially the founders and members of the Balaton Group.

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