Sustainability vs Resilience

In a recent opinion text in The New York Times, Andrew Zolli takes to task the sacrosanct concept of sustainability, a sort of ‘holy cow’ of development thinking.

By ‘sustainability’ he means ‘the idea that with the right mix of incentives, technology substitutions and social change, humanity might finally achieve a lasting equilibrium with our planet, and with one another’.

The author argues that the world today is in such a dis-balanced state that sustainability is almost an utopia.

Zolli opposes to this unrealistic expectation the concept of ‘resilience’, defined as ‘how to help vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions.

And he describes in the following terms the difference between them:

‘Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.

It’s a broad-spectrum agenda that, at one end, seeks to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events and, at the other, centers on bolstering people’s psychological and physiological capacity to deal with high-stress circumstances.’

I believe it worth reading the entire article at the link above.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

2 thoughts on “Sustainability vs Resilience”

  1. As an organisation developer, I came to similar conclusions. The software of organisations is more significant for sustainability than the hardware. That is, build people’s resilience, creativity and adaptability and put these skills to work on whatever the future throws up. Ted Engstrom’s maxim springs to mind: if people think right, they will do right.


    1. Yet, probably because of our modernity blindness, and our deceptive trust in the soteriological value of reason and technology, we continue to give so little attention to the soft part of our work. And the poor are the ones who loose the most in the process.


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