What do Business, Poetry, and Sustainability Have in Common?

The word “sustainable” is something of a buzz word these days, and more often than not it’s thrown on the table in reference to how unsustainable our current systems are. Whether we’re talking about the financial crisis, the fight for healthcare reform, deteriorating public education and access to student loans, intensifying income inequality, the monopoly of industrialized agriculture or divisive political parties often resembling children arguing on a school playground, the desire for sustainable solutions is apparent.

But what is sustainability, truly? The dictionary definition of the word sustainable is “capable of being sustained,” with related synonyms being of slightly more help: defendable, defensible, justifiable, maintainable, supportable, and tenable. If you pick up a book about sustainability, the definition you’ll probably find is, “meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Commission).

But what do those definitions mean in practice, when we’re talking about business, politics, healthcare, etc? And where does personal sustainability come into play?

Craving more meaning in her life, Intent’s resident poet Sarah McKinney left a career of market research to get her MBA at Presidio Graduate School – a program in San Francisco that’s completely devoted to a triple-bottom-line perspective (i.e., people + profit + planet). Now the founder of a tech start-up for sustainability professionals called AMP, we sat down with her to talk about this word “sustainability” and what it means to her both personally, and professionally.

Intent: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Sarah. To start off with, what does the word sustainability mean to you?

Sarah McKinney: During our first semester at Presidio we had to come up with our own, personal definition of sustainability, after being exposed to a variety of expert definitions. I felt frustrated that all the expert definitions seemed focused on external behaviors, and left out the feelings and thoughts driving these behaviors in the first place. So, my personal definition at the time was,

“Sustainability is individual and collective feelings, thoughts and actions that can carry on indefinitely without causing harm.”

I’m not sure I’d change it now, nearly three years later. I believe a shift in consciousness will be required to get us heading down the right path, and that the work to get there begins from within each of us.

Intent: Yes! Absolutely. Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?  What inspired to you to get into business, especially given the fact that so much in the business world is unquestionably UN-sustainable?

SM: Not consciously, no, though I did have a pretty cool idea for an underground nightclub called “Mind The Gap” when I was 10 years old and my family was living in London. I’m a creative thinker, and have always been fascinated by human behavior and identifying market opportunities, but until recently I was too afraid to actually take the leap into the world of entrepreneurship.

What drives me isn’t financial success, but a strong desire to solve the problem at hand: Those working to push sustainability forward from within organizations are wasting too much time searching for information and resources, and efforts are being duplicated because there’s currently no open-access central destination to share.

Intent: We are lucky to have women like you involved. Tell us a little bit about your new project AMP, and why it might be interesting to Intent readers.

SM: AMP is a collaborative bookmarking site and file exchange for sustainability champions – those working to push for social and environmental progress from within corporations, non-profits, academia and government. AMP will drive traffic and empower fast, confident decisions through better organizing content, so more people can join this movement and not feel as overwhelmed about where to start. Recycling at home and responsible consumer purchasing is important, but the impact that transforming organizations to be more sustainable can have is really powerful.

Intent: And how are things going with AMP so far? What’s next?

SM: Right now we’re in the middle of an Indiegogo campaign, and we need more support to reach our funding goal by October 14th, so I’d really appreciate the help of those Intent readers who believe in what we’re trying to do – whether that comes in the form of a small donation, or helping us spread the word through social media!

There’s a fun little pitch video starring yours truly on the campaign page. Once we hit our funding goal, we’ll move into developing the first version of our site,and test it with a small group of people before a more public launch.

Intent: That’s awesome. Many Intent readers will be familiar with you because you started a poetry feature called Wordplay Wednesday on Intent this past July. Was that intentional, if you will, putting  yourself out there both creatively and professionally around the same time?

SM: In some ways, yes, but it wasn’t strategic. Since moving back to Santa Monica in January I’ve been doing a lot of work to push through internal blocks and become a more fully integrated expression of who I am. Writing poetry is something I’ve always done as a natural part of my process, but tended to keep fairly private. Having the opportunity to share it with more people through Intent has been a really fun and connecting experience. And creativity continues to play a larger role in my life, most recently in the form of songwriting with my talented friend Kai Brown. I’m learning how much I need that to feel personally sustained.

That personal piece of the sustainability puzzle varies by individual, and I’d be curious to know from Intent readers: What does sustainability mean to you?

 Okay, Intent-ers… we need your help! Sarah is obviously doing some incredible work in the world, but for AMP to become a reality she needs to reach her fundraising goal before October 15th… or she will lose all of the nearly $16,000 she’s raised so far! Please support Sarah in fulfilling her intention to make business more sustainable by contributing to this groundbreaking project on IndieGogo