Complete Society

Ideas and strategies for a sustainable world

Definitions of Sustainability – 4 types

One of my Presidio classes kicked off some good conversations by asking each student to post their definition of sustainabilit to the class’ online discussion forum. There’s a wealth of ideas and commentary being produced that would be too much to summarize in one blog post. Here’s the post I put up. The rest of my ideas and things I get from the discussion will probably come out in futre blog entries


My approach to defining sustainability keys off something Hunter Lovins said to the effect “it’s only as useful as you can communicate it”. I agree that the reason to go through this exercise is to come up with something useful, but I think communicating your definition is only one of the uses.

Here’s what I think are 4 possible definition types based on what the definition is useful for:

1) Personal Definition. Useful if it inspires you and you can evaluate your own choices, actions, projects against it
2) Public Definition. Useful for people who want to learn about who you are
3) Helpful Definition. Useful if it helps someone else refine or improve their own Personal Definition
4) Academic Definition. Useful in adding to a conversation converging on a practical consensus, e.g. contributes to setting policies, standards, metrics.

So, I went through the exercise of defining my Personal Definition some years ago because I really needed something useful to frame my choices and opinions. I needed a framework to measure whether something was “good” or “bad”.

What I came up with was the following. It’s not wordsmithed for using in a bar because it only needs to be “Personal” or potentially “Helpful”.
As Hunter mentioned, I don’t actually like the word sustainable because it begs the question of what you’re sustaining that can’t be included in the definition.

So, I use the word “Complete”

Dictionary Main Entry: com·plete
1 a : having all necessary parts, elements, or steps
3 : highly proficient <a complete artist>

The Complete Society has all the necessary institutions, organizations, resources and processes to sustainably provide a diverse, healthy, just and beautiful world to every individual in this and future generations.

Drill down:

  • clean water, air, soil and power are elements of a healthy world. Safe is also an element of healthy.
  • “economically” and “ecologically” capture financial and environmental.
  • “beautiful” captures the value of beauty, art, delightful intangibles.
  • “this and future” provides for today’s people but also accounts for growth in human population

A corollary goes toward defining businesses:

The Complete Business/Organization is highly proficient at generating economic and social value with all products, services, and operations fulfilling Complete Society requirements.
– manufactured products deplete no limited resources. All resources are biologically derived from recent solar income or infinitely re-usable (i.e. zero waste)
– no operations harm the healthy sustainability of the environment (e.g. pollution, climate change emissions) and operations result in zero waste
– all energy consumed by operations is renewable energy
– all employees are provided equitable economic support
– all employees are provided a healthy and fair workplace that encourages a complete life and promotes personal growth
– overall operations generate an economic profit for sustainable return on investment and continuous growth in value generated

Whew, if you got this far, bravo.



August 27, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Nice blog Ted. Great goals. I take it you love being at Presidio.

    How successful are you at selling such soft concepts as what you are trying to convey? I find the business world is a lot more eager to jump on hard core things such as renewables, etc.

    Comment by marguerite manteau-rao | September 9, 2008 | Reply

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