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Publication date: 30 November 2019. - Request notification when available

From Aristotle to Tao: The law of sustainability

Change our view of how the world works

This chapter makes the reader aware that we must change our view of how the world works: That …

  • We depend on "living" systems of many kinds - like our food system, our forests, our monetary system, our cultural system, our climate system,
  • We can survive only if these are sustainable,
  • Sustainability of any living system results from balancing its resilience and efficiency.

The law of sustainability of living systems

Bernard Lietaer, with Sally J. Goerner and Robert E. Ulanowicz, (both leading scientists), in 2008 presented scientific proof that to attain sustainability living systems must reach a balance between efficiency and resilience - as presented by this graph:

Sustainability: Balance resilience and efficiency Too much resilience leads to system stagnation. Too much efficiency leads to system crash.


The law of sustainability
To reach optimum sustainability, a living system must balance its efficiency and resilience.

Bernard and his friends found that all natural ecosystems operate within a window of viability around the optimal point of this balance. In other words, the optimal point is the ideal balance between efficiency and resilience. The window of viability defines the acceptable range before the balance is tipped too far one way or the other – reducing the system’s sustainability.

Complementary Forces

Both resilience and efficiency are related to the levels of diversity and connectivity found in the network, but in opposite directions:
A well-woven multiplicity of connections and diversity plays a positive role in resilience, for example, because additional options help the system rebound from the loss or disruption of one or more pathways or nodes.
Yet living systems also require efficient end-to-end circulation of products in order to properly catalyze crucial processes at all levels of the whole. Redundant pathways and excess connections hinder throughput efficiency, leading to stagnation that erodes vitality.
In short, resilience and efficiency are essentially complementary forces because the streamlining that increases efficiency automatically reduces resilience. In general, then, greater efficiency means less resilience; and, conversely, greater resilience means less efficiency. The challenge is to find the balance that defines the window of viability.

Paradigm shift required

Both to recognize this law and to follow it requires a massive paradigm shift. At first sight, it may look easy. But it is not. It asks us to undo a deeply engraved orientation in our world: the focus on quick profit.

At the end of this chapter Bernard Lietaer challenges us to go, move and lead through the required paradigm shift:

  • Accept the law of sustainability: that we must balance efficiency and resilience in our world,
  • Follow this law in our own actions
  • As leaders of communities, business, governments: set sustainability as prime goal, recognize our myopic focus on efficiency and balance it with equally strong focus on resilience.

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