Sustainable Pyramid

The Sustainable Pyramid

I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to write a post on the sustainable pyramid.  I've had the idea for over 2.5 years now, and it has just been mulling around in my head.  At one point I was going to build a new website around the concept, but alas, life got in the way (maybe you've noticed our frequency of posts decreasing lately due   So what is the sustainable pyramid?

Sustainability as a framework is usually expressed as the Triple Bottom Line (TBL).  Unlike the standard "bottom line" which only focuses on the economic impacts on an entity, the triple bottom line is concerned with the economic, social and environmental areas an entity operates in.

I love the triple bottom line, but about 5 years after first learning about it I realized there was a tiny adjustment that could be made to this framework. The TBL usually focuses on the macro interests of a large organization.  But what about the individual within that organization?  Or what about a framework that would work for an individual, and not just a large group of individuals?

If the Triple Bottom Line can be expressed as a triangle, then that triangle can be extended into a pyramid and a focus on the individual can be added!  It is represented as a pyramid because all the pieces - environment, economic, social, individual - are related to each-other.  No one piece is more important than any other one (although many businesses would argue that the economic piece shares a larger portion of the pie, and I don't blame them).

Some sustainability experts may say that the individual is covered under the social aspect of TBL, but I disagree.  When I think social, I think the larger community, not the individual that interacts in that community.  Maybe I began to think along these lines as I learned more and more about the individual freedom's supported by libertarians.

Put another way, you could be an employee of a large corporation that participates in Habitat for Humanity, which helps grow a stronger bond with your coworkers and helps the community as a whole, both great aspects of the Social tenant of the TBL.  But if you are overweight, smoke too much and are at a huge risk for a heart attack, then you aren't living your life sustainably.  In other words, I realized that an organization could be operating sustainably at face value by satisfying the triple bottom line, but if the members of that organization are all unhealthy - both mentally and physically - then is it really operating sustainably?

Along with thinking along more libertarian lines, I also have to credit the book "Deep Economy" for helping me come up with the Sustainable Pyramid.  In this excellent book about sustainability, Bill McKibben makes the case that sustainability is all about happiness.   A community (social) can't be happy unless the individuals in that community are happy.

There are two ways to apply the sustainable pyramid to your daily life:

  1. Look at yourself and your daily life.  Are you physically and mentally fit?  If you aren't satisfying your individual needs to live sustainably, you are never truly going to meet any other sustainable goals your household or your organization has.
  2. Look at the organization you are a member of; whether that is your job, home, school, church, club, etc.  If that organization doesn't have any sustainable goals then start creating them!  If that organization already has sustainable goals, how does the individual play into them?

Here's the point: Living sustainably is all about happiness.  I'm happy when I have more money.  I'm happy when I'm hanging out with friends and family and helping my community.  I'm happy when I'm enjoying the clean outdoors while hiking or biking.  I'm happy when I'm eating good food from local farms and drinking good beer from my local brewery.  I'm happy when I get a new car that has excellent gas mileage which lowers my nation's dependence on foreign oil, saves me more money, and improves my local air quality.  I'm happy when I learn something new.

Sustainability is NOT about meeting some corporate goal to satisfy investors.  Sustainability is about each individual in an organization being happier.  When people are happy, great things happen for everyone and everything.

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