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Raising the bar: Reflections from the Toronto Sustainability for Leaders Course

The consensus was clear: everyone participating in The Natural Step Canada's Sustainability for Leaders Course in Toronto wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem. Throughout the course, that unifying goal began to crystallize as our instructors guided us through the key concepts and practices of this grand notion called Sustainability.

To me, sustainability has always simply been about enduring. However, The Natural Step challenged us to amplify that notion to a global level. Most importantly, it has taken the simple idea of endurance to now embody an entire worldview where our roles as individuals become clarified within the global picture. Once we accept that we live in a finite world bounded by finite resources, we then must come to accept that our actions must consider their consequences within these natural limits. Thus, to endure as a community, a corporation, a nation, or as a planet, we now must consciously consider our actions in relation to the whole.

The Natural Step has set out to raise the bar of our everyday thoughts and actions. Their challenge, however, did not go uncontested. I, for one, was reluctant to believe that our society could willingly overcome our insatiable demand and reconcile our wants within the dictates of nature and human needs. For one thing, would not binding oneself within a predetermined framework stifle creativity? Yet the exercises our instructors provided proved the opposite, and what I discovered was that by committing oneself to such boundaries forced us to think in unprecedented ways and unleashed a surprising amount of innovative thinking. It is almost as if when given the opportunity to work with less and prioritize social and environmental responsibilities, we come out with more.

We spent two intense days grappling with this noble challenge. Our task was to ground this vision into realistic goals and strategies, and then articulate our ideas in a language comprehensible to our respective audience. In truth, this would probably be easier if we were all working from a clean slate. However, given that we all recognized that the problems we face are of our current reality, we all struggled to squeeze our new ideas into our contemporary patterns of thinking and operating.

My own path to The Natural Step came via Seneca College's Green Business Management Program Director who advised me to look into the their courses as a means to prepare for the approaching semester. I coincidently came to discover that The Natural Step embodied concepts that complemented my current urban farming initiative with Fresh City Farms. As an urban-focused, ecological restorative food production business, we seek to redefine the concept of farming and help revitalize the local food distribution system.

It appears to me that in order to succeed within the world of sustainability, one must be adept in communicating goals and visions while simultaneously acting upon their words. Given the emphasis on responsibility and transparency, their does not appear to be much room for the inauthentic spokesperson. What appealed to me was a business model with an ethic woven into its fabric that not only claimed to improve our current environmental and social condition, but also appealed to the business mind. It may sound naïve, but throughout the course I often found myself wondering if it was really possible to have your cake and eat it, too?

To an extent this thought was substantiated via the numerous case-studies of success and struggle from sustainability champions. These examples revealed the potential of what can happen when sustainability becomes fully embedded into the organization’s framework. Notwithstanding the challenges that lie ahead, these sustainability leaders have proven that the path towards creating a better society that allows us to achieve our present needs without compromising those of the future is not only possible but necessary.


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