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.


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.