Sustainability. We hear the word in so many contexts—frequently as a buzzword—that it’s worth taking a step back to think about what the term actually means. In 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act defined sustainability as a national policy “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” In other words, sustainability is about the synergy of its three “prongs”: ecology, economy, and society.
In terms of today’s usage, we often equate sustainability with just the first of these: ecology. In this issue of The Canvas, we want to expand the conversation to fully consider all three strands, and how they interact, as well as aspects of sustainability that did not yet exist when the word was first defined. The key questions this issue engages with are: How can we implement practices to make our businesses economically viable and financially sustainable? How can we create processes that minimize negative effects on the environment, or, even better, produce positive effects? How can we ensure that people who use our services or products--our employees, customers, suppliers, neighbors--are, broadly speaking, experiencing enhanced wellbeing as a result?
As Green demonstrates, if we want to create a measurably better future, there is another strand that must be added to the original three of ecology, economy, and society: innovation. The interviewees and contributors in this issue discuss how their work is not just about maintaining the status quo in terms of sustainability; they are also looking to disrupt processes, to question assumptions, and to think creatively about existing and future challenges. Together, across a wide variety of disciplines, these thought leaders apply this approach at a range of scales, from clothing to architecture. They look at things in our everyday spheres, like textiles, and engage in research and development on topics, like the elimination of combustion engines, that seem far away but are fast approaching.
The mission of The Canvas is to look at how various creative industries converge around a single concept. In this issue in particular, the goal is to expand the definition of sustainability. The breadth of fields represented in this issue—architecture, fashion, business development, and technology, to name just a few—allows the reader to encounter new ways of thinking about their own areas of expertise as well as ones they may not yet have encountered.
If we use the narrowest definition of sustainability, and think only of its relationship to ecology, we may feel hopeless in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. But when we expand the definition, you may be left, as I was, with the opposite feeling: hope. As Gregory Constantine and Dr. Stafford Sheehan of Air Company say in their piece on page 12, “We believe the impossible is, in fact, possible.” I hope that after reading this issue, you agree.