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Sustainability: Both a Journey and a Destination

I have come across a number of articles and blogs that characterize sustainability as “a journey not a destination.” Here are but a few of them:

So why write more on this topic? Because I don’t fully agree with the premise. Instead, I think we need to look at sustainability as both a journey and a destination.

How so?

Let’s start with defining what is a “journey” and a “destination”:

A journey is defined as an act or instance of traveling from one place to another.”

A destination is defined as “the purpose for which something is destined.”

For me sustainability represents both of these ideas. And it’s not just semantics. It is about getting from point A to Z, with a meaningful purpose beyond just experiencing things along the way.

Let’s imagine that a business has little or no sustainability program in place, but it wishes to start one. With a starting point established, you could wander aimlessly from project to project. To paraphrase Alice in Wonderland’s cheshire cat, when you don’t know where you are going, any path will do.

When you have a vision and a series of milestones along the way, you are on a journey with a destination!

Why is it important to consider both?

Let’s face it: the route to sustainability can run into roadblocks and reveal problems that require detours along the way. That is why it is so important to have a strategy, an end game, and a plan so that you journey is progressive and purposeful. When the roadblocks and detours come up, you’ll still have a destination! Without knowing where you are going, you can waste a lot of time and may not achieve any meaningful results. With a plan, you know what you need to accomplish and why.  You can mark hard won accomplishments along the way and explain how they are leading toward strategic goals.

Once your organization has chosen an appropriate starting point and determined a desired destination (end-result goals), it is time to map your route (action plans).

Setting, achieving, and keeping the course

Developing sustainability “directions” or an action plan provides the path to your destination goals, setting mile marker targets along the way.  Your plan should have a detailed timeframe for at least the coming 12–24 months, and projections for long-term goals  with 5-, 10-, or even 20-year timelines.

In the “plan-do-check-act-report” management system that sustainability often follows, this work is cyclical. Each time a new milestone (a destination along the way) is reached, you iterate to continue on your sustainability journey, course-correcting as needed.

Having good data is a critical component of the continuous process of goal-setting and action planning. Mark when and how to collect, assess, and regularly report performance data as the organization progresses toward its sustainability goals.

If you keep at it, you will travel from your starting point to another more “sustainable” place. The sustainability journey is indeed “an act or instance of traveling from one place to another.” But when you plan that journey with meaningful goals and milestones along the way, then a sustainable company will be “the purpose for which [your company] is destined.”

Sustrana’s online roadmap for sustainability follows a six-step process to guide you in creating the directions for your sustainability journey and and setting the goals for your destination of being a sustainable company. Take a tour of our online platform and see how sustainability can be a journey and a destination for your company.