Eleven Things I’ve Learned About Sustainability

The following is a guest post by our friends at Saybrook University’s Organizational Systems Program (a 3p sponsor) – designed for students who want to understand the nature of organizations, collaborative practices, and transformative change.

By Alexander Laszlo

1.  Sustainability is an inside job

It seems clear to me that the search for solutions to the challenges faced in common by all people will not be successful if limited to an outward quest for answers in the domains of science and technology – that is to say, without including the human factor as the essential ingredient in every consideration.  The moral and ethical responsibility of the leader of integral development for long-range systemic sustainability is, in the first place, a commitment to the well-being of all living things in our planet as well as to their descendants.  No longer can we afford the luxury of ignoring the secondary impacts of our technologies and the undesirable consequences of our paradigms.  To be sustainable, I seek to incorporate perspectives that are systemic, humanistic and ethical at the heart of all that I do to advance the human cause.

2.  Dance the path

Seek to move from walking the talk (a demonstration activity) to living the walk (a formal and often dogmatic activity) to dancing the path of sustainability (a ludic activity).  It must be serious fun.  If it is not, it won’t have heart.  If it doesn’t, it won’t be sustainable.

3.  Be the change

To do this truly and authentically, it means going beyond acting the change, or even enacting it.  It means embodying it; expressing it; singing and dancing it; breathing it.  It’s not about trying to be sustainable in what one does or how one does it.  It is about being sustainability.

4.  Growth ≠ Development ≠ Evolution

Growth is a measure of size or quantity.  It has to do with higher standards of living.  Development is a qualitative expression of amelioration of conditions or potential.  It has to do with increased quality of life.  Evolution is the way the universe explores, learns and complexifies.  It has to do with increasing opportunities to express life.  Growth is necessary but not sufficient for life affirming, future creating, opportunity increasing processes to inhere.  Development allows us to create and populate a values-based world of human affairs.  Evolution gives rise to a normative directionality that is neither imposed nor random, but rather emerges through the play of time, matter, space, energy and consciousness.  In other words, evolution is neither directed nor directionless but rather is direction generating.

5.  Nature as mentor/teacher/mother/norm

Nature is the grand designer.  The living architect.  The mother teacher.  Look.  Listen.  Learn.  If nature over time is evolution, then we have to learn how to transcend our self-satisfied perception as Human Beings and to live into our dynamic nature as Human Becomings.  It is not so much about emulating nature as it is about syntonizing with her.  Syntony can be understood as conscious, intentional, purposeful aligning and tuning with the powerful resonant flows of nature that offer fertile pathways for ongoing emergence.

6.  Presence and practice draw on five principles of syntony

¤  Passion — vibrant, intense, and compelling enthusiasm

¤  Integrity — dignity and congruency with your values; worthiness, honor and respect

¤  Balance — spin control and flow control in (not of) all situations

¤  Grace — simple elegance, presence, kindness and a composed way of being

¤  Flow — tuning actions and attitudes to harmonize with surroundings


7.  Integral Sustainability requires four levels of syntony

¤  At the first level – syntony with oneself; internal or intra-personal syntony – the practices involve centering, quieting the monkey-mind, listening with every cell of our being. These practices cultivate intuition, compassion, insight that matches outsight, and a willingness to explore and follow our deepest calling.

¤  At the second level – syntony with others; community or inter-personal syntony – the practice involves deep dialogue and collaboration.  Coming together to learn with and from each other and to engage in collective action with empathy, considerateness, openness, and joy.

¤  At the third level – syntony with nature; ecosystemic or trans-species syntony – the practices involve communing; listening to the messages of all beings (whether they be waterfalls, animals, mountains or galaxies) and acknowledging our interdependence and ultimate unity.

¤  At the fourth level – syntony with the flows of being and becoming; evolutionary or trans-generational syntony – the practices involve learning to read the patterns of change of which we are a part; learning to hear the rhythms of life and becoming familiar with the improvisational jam session that nature has been playing since time immemorial. These practices cultivate our ability to play our own piece; to sing and dance our own path into existence in harmony with the grand patterns of cosmic creation.

8.  Sustainable Stewardship is more important than sustainable development

Sustainability stewardship is the responsible caretaking and creative cultivation of resources — social, cultural, financial, and natural — to generate stakeholder value while contributing to the well-being of current and future generations of all beings.  A process of development (individual, societal, or global) can be said to be socially and ecologically sustainable if it involves an adaptive strategy that ensures the evolutionary maintenance of an increasingly robust and supportive environment.

9.  The Integrated Quadruple Top Line is at least as important, if not more so, as the Integrated Quadruple Bottom Line.

Bottom line reasoning, no matter how enlightened, is always about the end of the pipeline; the expected return on investment.  Top line reasoning is about the value proposition; the area of  the world or the planet that our activities will enrich.  Once we figure out what we intend to contribute to, then we can align that with what harvest we hope to reap from it.  Top line thinking involves design; bottom line thinking involves planning.  In either case, it involves an integrated quadruple systemic focus on the social, cultural, financial, and ecological dimensions of change.

10.  Evolutionary aesthetics are primary to evolutionary ethics

Ethics is based upon reason, and such higher cognitive function is entirely dependent on the underlying capacity of individuals and groups to grasp something they deem worthy of reasoning about.  We do not waste time with thoughts, things and dynamics that appear irrelevant, uninteresting or unworthy of our attention.  It is our aesthetic sense ability that helps us determine where to direct our attention and what to consider worthy of reason.  As such, sensing with the heart precedes reasoning with the mind.

11.  Sustainability is a journey, not a destination

Thinking of sustainability as a journey leads to engagement with a process; a way of life and a way of being/becoming.  Thinking of it as a destination objectifies it and externalizes it, making it about something to achieve beyond oneself – in the world “out there”.   Engaging with the process, learning the different states of flow (sometimes as water, sometimes as vapor, sometimes as ice) while always being true to the aqueous nature of life, is the essence of learning the art of syntony.

Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D., is co-founder and President of Syntony Quest and professor of Systems Science & Evolutionary Development at Saybrook University

Saybrook University is a Triple Pundit partner. TriplePundit continues to work with Saybrook University as a partner this month. We'll be hearing from faculty and students in Saybrook's innovative Organizational Systems curriculum.

The posts on this page represent a variety of voices from the Saybrook community on subjects related to organizational evolution and systems thinking. Please feel free to share them and comment!

6 responses

  1. Powerful stuff! I'm particularly fond of the last one. Everything is a journey, really. I think that's a wonderful way to look at life in general, not to mention any business activity and any thinking about sustainability.

  2. The most insipirational way of living when you live to BE SUSTAINABLE with the most descriptive and narrational way of BE with an “Inside Job” with an “engaging with the process, learning the different states of flow (sometimes as water, sometimes as vapor, sometimes as ice) while always being true to the aqueous nature of life, is the essence of learning the art of syntony”… sounds “simply” when you likes what you do and beleive it on it… but it is not when you have to living into a society and economy where this “syntony” is not as water flow, more over in places like Mexico (social, security and economical troubles in a macroway)… but even in a MACROworld who has a perfect syntony?
    Thank you, it was a pleasure to read it, to feel it and to think on it.
    Mariana G.

    Read more: http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/07/eleven-thin

    nature of organizations, collaborative practices, and transformative change.

  3. Process and flow instead of something to be achieved is really a brilliant definition of how to approach a more sustainable world. I think we can go further and say that acting with compassion instead of being goal and direction oriented will eventually allow us to integrate with the very systems we now seek to dominate. Very mindful writing, lets call these Laslos principles.

  4. Alexander, I like your thinking. That said I fear an model that is seen a pieces as our human tendency is to do what is easy and hope the rest will follow. As sensitivity to initial conditions really determines the final effect I've gone to working with Sustainable Values found in the Sustainable Values Set™. These fifteen values, when used as a decision-making process will ensure the attainment of all that you mentioned.

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