Durability vs. Sustainability

Approximate Read Time: ~6 minutes

“Ancient Tulip Tree” photo by Tom Klaus

In a recent blog titled The Challenge of Durability, we dropped this sentence into the discussion: “It doesn’t matter if the business is for-profit or nonprofit. Both are businesses and both face the challenge of durability (what is also known as sustainability).” However, we didn’t explain why we prefer to use “durability” over “sustainability.” Let’s do that now.

At Tenacious Change we have come to prefer to think of organizations, businesses, programs, projects, and movements as needing to become “durable” rather than “sustainable.”

“But why?” you ask. (And thanks for asking!)

For years, the term “sustainability” has been used to refer to maintaining or continuing organizations, groups, programs, projects, movements, etc. but, as the Oxford English Dictionary indicates, the usage of the term “sustainability” has changed, and the meaning has changed as well.

It had been used, since the mid-1950s, as a noun with reference to the quality of being sustainable (maintaining, continuing) at a certain rate or level. Beginning about 1980, it began to be used as an adjective in reference to the environmental movement, referring to the property of being environmentally sustainable. Because of the prominence of climate change and its impact on our world today, it is increasingly likely that people will hear “sustainability” and think first about the environmental movement.

We’re pleased to hear that people think first about the environment when they hear the term “sustainability.” We are witnessing the impacts of climate change every day and sustainability as a planet should be top of mind for us all. In this environmental sense, groups also need to be concerned with sustainability.

However, we are finding the use of the term to be less useful in our organizational resilience work as its association with the environmental movement grows. We are also finding “sustainability” to be less useful because we’ve observed it is often associated with simply replenishing funding and ignoring other factors relevant to maintaining and continuing.

Our search for another term led us to “durability.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “durability” has had a durable meaning since its introduction to the English language in about 1374. It’s original meaning was “continuance; lastingness, permanence.” Some two hundred years later it included the idea of “capability of withstanding decay or wear.” Both of these meanings for durability persist today.

We find the term “durability” is most appropriate for how we use it in our work. We help organizations, businesses, groups, and movements not only continue and maintain but grow and thrive as well. There is something else about “durability” that we like. “Durability” doesn’t mean there is no change. Quite the opposite.

For an organization, business, group, or movement to continue, or last, or withstand decay or wear, change must happen, and it needs to be changing forward to a better state, not back to a previous state.

When any of these revert back to a previous state, it is called “snapback.” Rarely is “snapback” a good thing. It often happens because of fear, opposition, or disruption. So, here’s our final word on this (for today): organizations, businesses, programs, projects, and movements always strive to maintain, continue, and be relevant for as long as possible. That’s a good thing. Their ability to do so is what we think of as durability rather than sustainability. Durability depends on adaptability – which is their willingness to change forward in order to be durable.

Tenacious Change Coming to Substack

Soon we are going to start offering this weekly posting on Substack over the next few weeks. We’re going to be working with the formatting and learning the process of posting there by “rerunning” some of our earlier posts on Substack, just to get the hang of it. When we are fully ready to start publishing there, we’ll let you know!

Scheduling for Fall 2023 and Winter 2024

We are currently scheduling consultations, workshops, and training events for late summer and early Fall as well as for this upcoming Winter. Visit our website to learn more about everything we offer. You can even download and share this handout with your colleagues. Then schedule a time to talk to us.

Now Available!

Preparing for Controversy in the Fog of (Culture) War does not hold all the answers but it has some that will be helpful. It will help you understand:

  • the difference between a controversy and a conflict
  • the stages of conflict
  • the cycle of intractable conflict
  • the value and importance of Strategic Controversy Management
  • when to intervene so that a controversy does not become a conflict
  • how to slow or stop a controversy, even a conflict, when it occurs

Ninety-one percent (91%) of people completing the evaluation after the live April 2023 seminar told us they felt more confident in their ability to manage controversy as a result of participating in the seminar. Specifically, here’s what they told us how they benefited most from it:

  • Five big steps in controversy management.
  • The rules of civil conversation.
  • Understanding how controversy and conflict are different now from the 90’s and understanding where and how conflict can be deterred.
  • Learning about when more people are likely to “get on-board” with your issue. This helped me think about where my energy and efforts can be used more effectively.
  • Tom’s historical observations about the Culture War and how things have changed…or not changed.
  • The cycle of intractable conflict.

In addition to the video, there are downloadable PDF resources. All are available at no cost, though you will be asked to sign a guest book before accessing the video and downloads.

Click on the link below to see a brief trailer video and then access the full video and all resources.

What Controversy Could be Brewing In Your World?

sticks and pine cones near a coffee maker
Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Please follow this link (or click on the button below) to complete a brief Google form where you can tell us.

  • What controversies are emerging that you might be able to head off?
  • What controversies are you actually facing at this time?
  • Can you share a situation with us that we can turn into an anonymous “case study” and explore in an upcoming blog?
  • What specific questions do you have about getting prepared for controversy or managing controversy?

Remember, you can also access our video Preparing for Controversy inthe Fog of (Culture) War on our website and we also offer a day-long training event on managing controversy – on-site or online.

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