13 March 2011

The Inner and Outer Aspects of Sustainability

The Oxford Leadership Journal has a worthwhile article in the current issue by Sara Schley: Sustainability: The Inner and Outer Work. In it, she describes how even those organizations that subscribe to the notion of a “triple bottom line” - success determined equally though economic, social, and ecological measures - are often not recognizing the integration that is required among these elements. She explains how an intense focus on achieving triple-bottom-line results may actually be counterproductive, drawing people away from practices necessary to achieve holistic success:
First, the way that most people operate with the triple bottom line ignores the real synergy among its three dimensions – social, economic, and ecological. In practice, efforts tend to be fragmented; companies institute “social policies,” “green practices,” and financial reporting systems without ever linking them together.

The second reason that a focus on the triple bottom line alone isn’t enough is that it allows people to ignore the “inner work” – the personal practices and disciplines that provide the perspective and internal stability needed to make a difference in the long run. The very ideals and aspirations that lead people to an interest in sustainability can also drive people into a frenzied cycle of “fixes,” actions, and imperatives, ultimately leading to wasted efforts and burned-out people.
She goes on to explore the ways in which inner work - contemplative practices and awareness of the emotional connections and effects we create among our various decisions to act - provides the appropriate guidance needed to be truly effective in achieving an integrated, triple bottom line. The important thing to recognize about living in a complex world is the fractal nature of these effects: to accomplish a healthy, triple bottom line for our organizations, we each, individually, must remain committed to achieving a healthy, triple bottom line for ourselves and those whom we touch. That, of course, is the essence of tactility.

2 comments:

Harold Jarche said...

You might aso be interested in this article Triple Bottom Line — the bad idea that just won’t die

Mark said...

Thanks for that reference, Harold. I agree wholeheartedly that even the act of reducing humanistic and ecological concerns to accounting terms is often counter-productive to attaining a holistic appreciation of an organization's effects in the world (that's one of the reasons I created Valence Theory). Worse, perhaps, is that it is only a small jump from the accounting "metaphor" of triple bottom line to a neo-liberal, market-based accounting system in which all natural resources and all human interactions must be "charged out" as promoted by some ultra-right-wing think tanks (Fraser Institute, if I recall correctly, but I could be wrong about that).

Additionally, it leads to creating ridiculous metrics, as one Fortune 50 company that now has, as a personal objective ("actionable" "measurable" "attainable") a minimum requirement for the number of thank-you emails that an individual must sent per month, in order to achieve one of their triple bottom line objectives. This organization has completely missed the concept.