Resiliency: The New Sustainability?

Elise Miller, MEd

In response to a recent article in Ode magazine entitled “Beyond Sustainability”, Michael Lerner sent a insightful comment last week to CHE’s Integrative Health Working Group listserv noting how “resiliency” has become more predominately used among thought leaders than the term “sustainability” in recent years. Because this point has become a robust topic of discussion and debate among quite a number of colleagues in a range of fields, I wanted to take a moment to expand on this idea as I think it applies to much of our collective work in CHE and beyond.

First, just a bit of background on sustainability. This term emerged in our common lexicon in the early 1970s propelled by pioneering books such as Limits to Growth, written by Donella Meadows and a team of colleagues at MIT. Over time several sectors have influenced the meaning of this evolving concept, including environmentalists concerned with threats to the Earth’s ecosystems, economists quantifying “growth” in terms of quality of life (rather than as a measure of the amount of goods manufactured and consumed), social advocates focused on equity issues, and ethicists and others underscoring the moral, cognitive and spiritual dimensions of development. Though the nature of sustainability has been debated and revised over the last decades, the most commonly used definition is found in the Brundtland Commission report of 1987: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

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