The abundance cycle.The abundance cycle.

In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission offered the following definition of sustainable development, “Development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability has proven a powerful concept, infiltrating society at every level—from laundry detergents to investment portfolios to climate change.

Jay FriedlanderJay FriedlanderUnfortunately vagueness and uncertainty have arrived alongside ubiquity. Popularity leaves the term meaning both everything and nothing. Well-intentioned communities and enterprises seeking sustainability therefore often struggle to make progress; while many cite expansive goals of improving social, environmental, and economic welfare, it is unclear what those goals mean or how to act. Recent surveys of business executives show that while two-thirds believe sustainability is important to their business, only 10 percent feel they are fully tackling sustainability issues.

“Abundant solutions create a mutually reinforcing cycle whereby we can achieve economic, social, and environmental improvements together…this drives innovation and opportunity by offering new ways to examine problems” - Jay Friedlander.

Perhaps even worse, a focus on trade-offs between the needs of current and future generations leads people to fear sustainability as a zero-sum game. Opponents—climate-denying politicians, industry groups seeking to protect their interests, and others—seize upon this notion of scarcity and portray sustainability as a series of sacrifices. The fear that helping the environment will hurt the economy, for example, has come up time and time again over decades of climate change negotiations.

It’s time for a new terminology that clarifies and motivates people to action—terminology that goes beyond the language of sustainability, and articulates the potential for mutual prosperity and abundance we have been overlooking. Insofar as abundance simultaneously expands economic opportunity, strengthens community, and restores the planet, it provides an important mechanism to accomplish the Paris climate goals.

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