Thoughts on the notion of sustainability have grown exponentially it seems. Everyone is talking about it, whether they mean it or not. As you may have found odd, massive resource extraction companies talk about it and promote it, when their very existence is in opposition to it. In all honesty, I am not really sure what "sustainability" means fully, and probably no one can really put it fully into words without writing a tome. My notions of it are challenged day by day. What I do know is that such companies mentioned above do not practice it at all, whatever sustainability truly is, apart from "economic" sustainability - they are making absolutely sure that their viability and legitimacy as entities stays intact, and they are "sustained." They have all too easily kidnapped the word, and made it mean what they want it to mean.
If you know a little bit about "sustainability," you'll know that the world has basically defined three pillars of it - environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability. The way the problem of sustainability is currently set up is such that goals and targets must be met for all three pillars - environmental, social, and economic. A "sustainable" outcome is some sort of optimisation of the three pillars. What this means is that there are some compromises that need to be made, and one or two of the pillars will be compromised more so than the others; there are conflicts and tensions between these pillars. Our world has a tendency to compromise on the pillars of environmental and social sustainability, because there is very little willingness to change the economic foundations of how we live our lives, the foundations that have gotten us into this mess in the first place.
The way sustainability is currently defined involves the considerations of economic structures that are counter to the notion of sustainability, just like the economics practiced by corporations. The economic structures I am talking about are those such as capitalism, communism, or any mix of anything of that sort. Such economics are by their very definition destructive to both the environment and people. In fact, there is no way you can have equality in any capitalist or communist framework - there are losers, human and non-human, always. There is never a Pareto-optimal decision if you also consider the environment and justice.
The issue is this: the problem is over-constrained, because we have decided that our current economic structure trumps people and the environment. We have limited our conceptualisation and imagination of sustainability by limiting the options we have available to us, because we are unwilling to change our economies. (In order to maintain the economic viability of our nation, jobs are being created in sectors that necessarily involve violence against the land, air and water. Such jobs are clearly not sustainable.) There is no way you can be remotely sustainable unless you define a new economics. Economics should in fact not be its own pillar at all, but should rather be a fluid, moving and dynamic outcome of our definitions of society and the environment. Such economies might better be able to address chronic problems that face our society today, such as bad food, homelessness and poverty. The goal of any social structure should involve justice and equality. In this light, society itself should be dynamically defined based on environmental constraints and environmental sustainability. There is no getting around it - we live on Earth.
More to come.