Sustainability, Friend or Foe?

By Ralph Velasquez, Guest Contributing Editor
Perspectives from the Green Boardroom
July 18, 2012


How times have changed!  To those who have lived through the early days of green (vegetative) roofing in the USA, to those who have done the same in broader sustainability circles, it seems that anything “green” and even sustainability itself is everywhere.  The question on everyone’s lips seems to be “what’s next?”  Are we hitting a plateau and/or have we hit an over saturation of everything green?  Does the consumer care or are they overwhelmed (some might argue underwhelmed) by this thing we love to call sustainability?


I find that my peers, those that deal with sustainability on multiple fronts asking some or many of the same questions.  It seems like we are looking for some indication that this process is not only sustainable in its own right but that it can be elevated to a new level.


As I ponder these questions myself, I can’t help but wonder if part of that malaise comes from the concept of the journey itself, fighting against the ever dominant trends of our society for quicker and quicker response times, shortened attention spans and the desire or need for a quick ROI.  The speed of business today almost demands this shortened view and yet sustainability itself speaks to something that is ever present with heavy future overtones.


After all, isn’t the idea of sustainability to meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs?  Wow, I can’t always think about what has to happen tomorrow, let alone what the future generations are going to need and how my actions today will affect their ability to do the same.


Sustainability comes in many forms.


I also wonder if we struggle with the immensity of the concept and feel overwhelmed by all its implications.  It can seem like it is almost impossible to put one's arms and thoughts around the various aspects of sustainability.  When we feel overwhelmed, then we often fail to take any action or we get fatigued with the effort it takes and stop trying.  What a shame it would be if the idea of sustainability is the reason we don’t become sustainable in a real sense.


Finally, my philosophical wanderings take me to the idea that up to this point we have seen sustainability as more of doing “less bad” as compared to the conventional norm and that we are yearning for something that is beyond that idea and even beyond “break even.”  I think we want to know that what we are doing in the realm of “sustainability" is making things better or enhancing one of the three legs of the proverbial sustainable stool.


We all want our lives to count and we all want to make a difference and many see sustainability as a place holder for this to take place.  That’s a lot of responsibility for a concept to hold up under.





Sustainability as Responsibility?
Matthew Borkoski statue.


So, if my thoughts are anywhere close to what is truly happening, then how do we answer these questions?  While I don’t pretend to have all, some or even any answers, I do have MY answers and you’ll need to find yours.  Here are mine and if they provide a basis for you to build upon, great!  If they provoke you to find your answers, then all for the better!  If you didn’t have these questions to begin with, then who am I to suggest that you have to find an answer to anything I’ve proposed…but if you’ve read this far, then I’ve struck a note somewhere.  I’m just saying…


To the first question, I have always loved what Steven Covey (author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) proposed: Begin with the end in mind!  I think about what I would want people to say about me at the end and just work backwards from that thought.  I break it up roughly into large chunks, like by decades and years and then think about the actions it will take for me accomplish those things in that type of time frame.


I know that so much is unknown and the future has a tricky way of throwing surprises at me but if I kind of know where I’d like to end up, then, it is easier to navigate all these unknowns and keep my eye on the ultimate prize.  It makes monthly, weekly and even daily planning easier.


Don’t get all tied up planning every detail just keep moving to the goal on a daily basis and you will be surprised how close you will come to the ultimate goal.  It is likely you will exceed it.  Apply this to sustainability and it will help “slow” down the process and let you unfold the future piece by beautiful piece.

What about the second question?  What about all the implications and the complexities of the issue?  Who said you had to get it all right, all the time?  Who said you had to even understand all the issues?


Basic advice here is to know what you know, keep learning and cut yourself some slack.  There are others with you in this journey and they will take up the slack, even as you take up the slack for them.  Too many people are ready to criticize if you are not perfect because they judge your weakness by their strength instead of judging your strength by their weakness.  Here, I take inspiration from the Christmas cartoon, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, where Santa Claus tells the old winter warlock to “take one step in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door.”  Sounds like good advice to me.


From Santa Claus is Comin' to Town


The final question about sustainability being “less bad” or wanting to do something more than just “break even” and making our lives count towards a positive change, now that is a challenge I like!  I do think we often have the tendency to think smaller than we are capable of because we have learned to do so since we were a child.


Like the baby elephant that was chained by the leg and learned that it was not strong enough to pull itself out of this limitation, when it is older and more capable, the full adult elephant often will not pull out the chain because it has been “taught” that it can’t do it.

As an adult, that is far from the truth but, alas, we are now “chained” in our thoughts and don’t exercise our full capability.  I’d like to encourage you to think like the full grown adult you are, fully capable and more able then you dare to dream.





Unchain yourself!


Throw off the past and engage the future with your full capabilities.  Apply this to everything sustainable you touch.  Challenge every existing thought and see if it can hold up to your incredible powers of concentrated thought.  I doubt it will for long.  If we do that daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, over decades and through our entire life cycle, then you will accomplish meeting your needs of today, while empowering the future generations to meet their needs.

Who knows, you might even see things change enough to witness the Chicago Cubs win a world series.  Ok, so you can’t change everything, but changing everything else wouldn’t be a bad way to be remembered.

Writing this article has fired me up even more to re-double my efforts.  Charge!



Ralph Velasquez
Executive Director of Sustainability
Tremco, Inc.

Contact Ralph at: phone (VM) 877.510.2681 or


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