The living System

The living system requires energy and resources from the environment which are used to run internal processes and also produces external effort; ultimately providing the means of survival and the potential of a full, useful life. Along the way, waste products and unused energy are discharged back into the environment. One principle of sustainability is to close the loop between these inputs and outputs of living systems, thereby, eliminating pollutants.  In thermodynamics we were taught how to calculate the efficiency of systems by using concepts like useful work, total available energy, and the purposeful output of the system. These measurable values were used to calculate ratios of output to input. In a like manner, we now can use the same approach to calculate effectiveness of living systems rather than their efficiency.




Health  = Human activity/ Environment

Equity = Human activity/ Economy

Renewable = Economy/ Environment

These subsystem efficiencies include the ratios between the environment, humans, and economic activity. Health is defined as the ratio of human activity to the environment. In terms of sustainability, it reflects the impact of the environment on humans and humans on the environment. Equity refers to the relationship between Humans to the Economy and the Economy to Humans. Renewable refers the relationship between the Economy and the Environment. These three principles define an effective way of measuring changes in living system by measuring the health, equity, and renewability of the living system in relationship to its environment.

Peter Drucker, the Harvard business management guru, contrasted efficiency and effectiveness. Efficient people typically “do things right’ while effective people “do the right thing.” Developing and living within a set of goals aimed at sustainability encompassing the concept of “doing the right thing.” It involves a kind of soul-searching that most individuals, groups, and organizations are not used to doing, but for some, it may prove a potentially powerful and unifying approach to evaluate all of their business decisions. If we choose sustainability as an objective, then certain questions flow from this concept. “what kind of person, group or organization do I/we want to be? What do we stand for? How do we relate to the environment and economy? Will my decision improve my and others standard of living, quality of life within the sustainable development and economic models?"  In terms of sustainability, the discussion maybe best be reframed as a comparison of effectiveness versus expediency rather than effectiveness versus efficiency.

What is sustainability?

One definition of sustainability ( United Nations) might be ‘effective consumption of economic, human, and environmental capital such that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Many people still believe that the trade-offs between human, environmental, and economics are unavoidable. Yet, we must find solutions to our business problems with an approach that integrates these three domains. One truism of sustainability is that the Earth’s resources cannot be used at a rate faster than they can be replaced. These resources in terms of the environment represent the ecological processes, biological diversity, productivity, and health of our natural world. In human terms, we cannot evolve and employ technology at a faster rate than the work force can absorb it without a significant threat to equitable distribution of our economics resources and the mental health of the population.  The health of humans and the environment is jeopardized at the sake of short-term economic expansion.  The longer term survival of our country is at stake. When we evolve technology at a faster rate than workers can absorb, we, as an economy, and as a society, suffer significant dislocations. Sustainability represents a conceptual strategy that connects humans to both the economy and the environment and at the same time links the economy to the environment through human effort to earn a living and support a quality of life.

Lean + Green = Sustainability

Choosing sustainability as a primary goal recognizes that the 21st Century is founded on different economic, environmental, and social principles than the past. Future activity and energy provided by people will depend more on brain-power than muscle-power. Just as the industrial revolution changed from horse-power to machine-power, the sustainable revolution will cause a significant. reorganization of our business methods, the way we earn our livings, and the relationships between human activity and the environment. These changes will be just as revolutionary as the industrial revolution was to the agrarian social structure. For each person to stay in the game throughout their work-life, continued changes of skills will be required. The competitiveness of one society versus another and one part of the country versus another, will continue to be driven by their respective workforce's ability to produce goods and services that meet the test of the free and global markets.

The more successful societies will use ingenious options to convert natural resources into products and services. True wealth has always been created by value adding in the supply chains of products and services while at the same time, providing employment, standard of living, and a quality of life. The combination of effectiveness and human ingenuity will define whether our economy will rise and be sustainable, or unstable and fall. 

Resources + Technology + Human Effort + Human Ingenuity = Standard of Living + Quality of Life

Placing humans squarely in the middle of the economy and the environment recognizes that human development is both a means and at the same time an end to future sustainable growth. A sustainable economy depends on investing in education and training as the surest way of improving human ingenuity and identifying ingenious people. The investment in people’s skills, talents, and knowledge at any ages will insure their current and future quality of life while at the same time provide meaningful productive activity for our society. Ours and future generations can find purpose for their lives through participation in the economic engine while at the same time, laying the foundations for the next increment of personal, economic, and cultural growth.

A future oriented perspective of economic development might be framed as wealth created by emphasizing sustainability and quality of life rather consumption and GNP. This new approach argues that growth of income is essential for sustainability, but it is not the end in itself. The primary principle is that economic activity must also benefit the people who are causing it by providing a quality of life, thus, wellbeing is a better metric of economic development rather than Gross Domestic Product.

The economies of the future will depend more and more on brain-power rather than muscle-power. Improved methods of production, more sophisticated products and just-in-time inventories, places pressures on people to participate in the sustainable economy rather than just being taken care of by an economic engine. People need to become professional participants in this new economy, for it will produce little jobs for muscle-power alone. Continued automation will continue to drive cheap labor around the world. Automation reduces cost, makes things easier to use causing less hassle and frustration, improves safety and reduces environmental impact. Automation changes the nature of work and job content reflecting a different interplay between technology, machinery, and human effort. Labor intensive industries will continue to move around the world chasing cheap labor while the remaining jobs will be more skill-intensive, higher technology, and be more proximate to the markets. This need for skills, technologies, and adaptability in the work force drives the demand for continued skill-enhancement and career evolution. We need a total overhaul in the educational system if we are to produce more effective and ingenuous people.


Sustainable Resources Institute LLC was founded for the purpose of promoting the concept and the application of sustainability to real life business problems, to promote opportunities in this new economic environment and at the time, to find effective, potentially profitable ways of doing business.

Three areas of opportunity are:

*Human sustainability:

the health, education, skills, knowledge, and leadership each individual possesses. Human capital needs to be periodically renewed or regenerated by career adjustments, skill formation, knowledge building, and health overviews.

*Economic sustainability:

 development and consumption of the world’s resources in ways that are renewable.

 *Environmental sustainability:

respecting the finite limits of natural resources, recognizing the capacity of the natural world to accept and detoxify
human’s pollutants.

~top of page~