Sustainability as an Emergent Property: Self-organized systems and super-organisms inspiring a new business mentality

leafcutter-ants-hoffmanIn the ongoing drive to create and communicate about sustainability in the emerging economy, it can be useful to conceive of sustainability not as a quantifiable end goal, but as an emergent property. An emergent property arises when individual components or actions, combined together, collectively generate a higher-level aggregate experience. Think democracy. Or plague. Or community. One does not “do” sustainability anymore than one “does” community. One co-creates community through all of the little deeds — hosting the potluck, planning the carpool, sharing the tool shed. Like community, sustainability — or any emergent property — arises out of the contributions made and conditions created in service of a shared reality.

Those of us in the business of sustainability therefore find ourselves, at least partially, in the business of emergence. This fact has two implications for our work. The first is that sustainability, like any emergent property, must be developed collectively. Like an ant in his colony, the individual’s primary value is as a component of the whole. The second implication is that sustainability, as an emergent property, cannot be mandated from above. It arises, to some extent inexplicably, from the ground up.

Read the full article by Victoria Kindred Keziah

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