Contemporary Crises

Exploring modern societal challenges

Spirituality and Sustainability

Sustainability has become a popular topic of conversation, literature, and social media, with calls for increased protection and preservation of the environment coming from numerous sectors and regions. The greatest challenge sustainability advocates face is how to provide for the current population while ensuring future populations have access to necessary resources. Sustainable development appears to be an oxymoron to many who assume a successful outcome requires winners and losers with no middle ground. An increasing proportion of citizens in both developed and developing nations have been conditioned to measure success using quantitative variables such as income, residence square footage, and automobile price – measures which often seem contradictory to sustainability. Countless books have been written about how to become successful, primarily in terms of money and career, providing tips, plans, and roadmaps for success. We desire success for ourselves and our children, taking great pride when our children “make it” or surpass our accomplishments. This materialist worldview suggests success and sustainability may be incompatible bedfellows. But, perhaps there is one missing variable in the sustainability versus success equation.

In my recent book, Spirituality, Sustainability and Success: Concepts and Cases I present research and discussion demonstrating that spirituality, sustainability, and the combination of both qualities contributes to personal and organizational success. Spirituality and sustainability are broad terms, each with multiple meanings. Spirituality is automatically assumed to be referring to a religious person or condition. However, one can be spiritual without being religious, and vice versa. In secular terms, University of Southern California (USC) Professor Emeritus Ian Mitroff may have best defined spirituality as "the desire to find ultimate purpose in life, and to live accordingly".

While consumer and societal demands influence businesses to become more sustainable, many business leaders believe that environmental sustainability is incompatible with profit sustainability. Like sustainable development, the term sustainable business is considered an oxymoron. However, the reality for contemporary business is that sustainable business is essential for long-term profitability. Moreover, individual and organizational success are interdependent. Organizations cannot maintain success absent successful individuals. Likewise, successful individuals seek affiliation with other successful individuals, further strengthening organizations through their continued membership.

By whatever standard of measurement, success is both extrinsically and intrinsically important. Being successful contributes to the economic well-being of the individual, organization, and society, and feeling successful increases individual self-esteem. Spirituality and sustainability offer pathways for success that are not necessarily measured in quantitative, material terms. Success through spirituality implies achievement with a real purpose, and success through sustainability implies achievement with a specific purpose benefiting the individual, the organization, and the greater society. When combined, spirituality and sustainability offer a formula for success that can be extrinsically and intrinsically rewarding for the individual, and beneficial for organizations, society, and future generations. The solution to ensuring both current and future sustainability is to seek and measure success in terms of both tangible and intangible qualities.  

Christopher G. Beehner is Professor at Seminole State College of Florida, USA. He has also published and presented on the topics of workplace spirituality and sustainable business education.