Defining Sustainability

Sustainability is a commonly misunderstood term and is frequently equated to environmental awareness, but it is much broader than that. “Green” is a color, not an ambiguous concept!


  Laura D’Ardenne and her father.

  The elements of a triple bottom line.

Sustainability could be simply defined as the capacity to endure. But for me, the meaning is more personal and began in my childhood when my dad and I would spend time outdoors. While teaching me to appreciate nature, respect the environment, and exist in harmony with it, both he and my mother also instilled in me to work hard, do your best, respect others, lend a hand, and be fair. My parents taught me to think about how to make the best decisions each and every day! To me, this way of thinking is what makes a business sustainable, and it becomes part of who we are and what we do.
It may sound old fashioned and bring us back to simpler Leave it to Beaver times, but I think this applies to any person, time, or place. And it certainly should guide how we act in our professional lives as employees or executives running a company.


From a business standpoint, you could define sustainability in terms of development. The Report of the World Commission on Environment an​d Development: Our Common Future (Brundtland Report) says that sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable businesses are typically identified as ones that impart positive effects on the environment and the community; yet often, these organizations omit any reference to economic prosperity or the bottom line. This is an unbalanced approach—if you are a for-profit business it’s ok (and imperative) to address the bottom line!
The Triple Bottom Line (TBL), which is commonly used when defining sustainability, addresses the social and environmental performance, as well as the economic performance of your business. It means you consider all aspects in your decision making and not at the expense of one or the other. This allows a company to manage all their risks, obligations, and opportunities. After all, CEOs, CFOs and COOs are ultimately striving for long-term growth and profitability while including social and environmental performance in their business model. This is both smart and sustainable.
 Thinking in these terms, we must ask
  • How can we responsibly create value for our partners and shareholders?
  • Can we do more with less without compromising safety, integrity, and the quality of our work?
  • How can we create a positive impact and increase efficiencies with our time, resources, and dollars?
To address these questions is to embrace sustainability. I’ll be exploring these, and many other topics, in future blogs.


  • Thanks for the support of our initiative and it's great to hear from others dedicated to sustainability.

    Laura D'Ardenne
  • Laura, It is refreshing to see that the future of companies like PCL is in the hands of thoughtful people like yourself. Best, Byron

    byron zorzos
  • I am running an experiment in my apartment on the 5th floor of a residential condominium in British Columbia; that is to grow two plants of potatoes, 4 of corn, 2 of water melons, pumpkins, 2 tomatoes plants, one zucchini and lots of carrots in my balcony. I built a soil bed and used pots because the balcony doesn't have a basin for soil and plants. I think sinks for plants in balconies help owners and renters of apartments to grow part of their own food. I feel much more sustainable now than ever before!

    Marco A. Murillo
  • It's good to see engineering and construction firms begin down the path toward Sustainability. I'm working on a paper called "Towards Engineering for Sustainability", and in it I derive the units of measure for Sustainable Technological Development (as compared to 'indicators'), and from that develop a method of evaluating any set of alternative designs to find the most Sustainable design, and if in fact it is Sustainable. The method is independent of, but sensitive to, community scale, technology, resource availability, culture, and an undefined future. It is also sufficiently flexible to be able to be applied to any form of engineering. Before my next major re-write, I am trying to find out not just 'who' wants to know this method, but 'why'. Why would you (personally) want to read such a paper? Why would any firm want to use a method that could achieve Sustainability, if that method could also demonstrate that significant aspects of their business were not and could not be Sustainable?

    Douglas Nuttall
  • There is a fourth aspect to TBL that looks at the 'Governance' impacts, hence the term TBL+1 was coined. I have done extensive research on TBL+1 as part of my doctoral thesis, which focused on recycling construction and demolition waste. The impacts of legislation and regulation that affect sustainability cannot be overlooked.

    Eunice Indome
  • Good perspective on sustainability Laura! Organizations like yours can now take part and get students (GreenTerns) to work on their sustainability plans and learn from your fundational background of sustainability and help them learn. Join us lets give our young people this same vision of sustainability that you demonstrate through our Green School Program. To get involved in the Green School Program, Call 780.709.0965 , or email to request a Green School Program package. Or get more information at

    Frankline Agbor
  • Yes! That's exactly right. Sustainability is everyone's responsibility. It's no different than safety or quality in our business of construction.

    Laura D'Ardenne
  • Well said!!! Sustainability is everybody's responsibility,

    Nancy W Bishop


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