Sustainability: Internalizing the Economics of Society

“An activity is sustainable when all costs are internalized, because if the costs are too high, the activities stop. Low gas prices lead to more Hummers; taxing gas in some fashion to pay for environmental remediation makes sense, and is a pro-sustainability approach. This version of sustainability applies not only to the environment: labor practices are unsustainable if they breed unrest (or revolution) or fail to develop the labor force; additives that extend product shelf life are unsustainable if they diminish human life; corporate presence in a town may be unsustainable if the tax breaks that attracted the facility mean that it is not paying enough to keep the community thriving.” –Christopher Meyer (HBR Blog Network)

Sustainability, although typically used as an environmental term, can apply to all aspects of society. I find that the quote above accurately depicts the definition of sustainability, as it refers it as a much broader concept. Specifically, this article elucidates sustainability as a solid economic foundation. Sustainability is examined from an environmental standpoint while still mentioning the pertinent economic underpinning. The author also talks about the correlation between demand for products and the cost of those products. A particularly interesting segment of this author’s definition is the discussion of labor practices. It is intriguing to look at sustainability from a labor perspective, for this is the groundwork of a functioning and prosperous society. However, as the author mentions, a prosperous society does not necessarily equal a sustainable society. The key is to keep costs internalized and to avoid an overbearing corporate presence. This is sustainability.