Symbolism of Sustainability: Means of Operationalizing the Concept

R. Warren Flint, PhD

Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2010; 1:T25-37

The idea of sustainability permeates global society and is a dynamic process enabling people to realize their potential, meet their needs, and improve their quality of life in ways that simultaneously protect and enhance earth’s systems. But, to promote society-wide sense of sustainability, we must be in touch with the basic truths forming the foundation for a sustainable future. Scholars and practitioners articulate and promote their own definitions; yet a clear, fixed, and immutable meaning remains elusive. Critics believe that present perspectives offer no substance for those wanting to operationalize or implement actions. What is lacking is a way to re-integrate traditional reductionist and linearized approach to problem-solving which worked when the system was not constrained against resource and population limits. In contrast, sustainability planning and action represents a multi dimensional way to achieve recovery and improve quality of life. Besides the expression of community or corporate intent to become more sustainable, development of a systemic approach is required. A diagrammatic model illustrating the concept of sustainability can offer an improved understanding of the process of sustainable development. The acceptance and continual use of a visual tool as a conceptual framework, helps apply systemic thinking and action throughout the analysis of problems and solutions toward sustainable design processes. A holistic approach, informed by sustainability symbolism, is crucial to developing new methods of analysis and decision-making.

Key words: sustainability, system’s thinking, operationalizing sustainable development, sustainability images.