Can Foresight Processes Operationalize the Notion of Sustainability?

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Soroka, Leah
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University of Guelph

In an increasingly complex world, many business leaders, politicians, citizens, and NGOs desire sustainability, but the academic literature is insufficient with insights on how to operationalize sustainability. The commonly mentioned Brundtland definition of sustainability refers to making decisions that benefit today but are also beneficial to future generations. Implicit in the definition of sustainability is consideration of the future. Given this temporal dimension inherent in the definition of sustainability, the research question is: how does thinking about the future impact decision making and enhance sustainability? Linking the future to the definition of sustainability, foresight or future studies may be essential to operationalize sustainability. The researcher proposes a theoretical construct known as the Sustainability Heuristic Model where thinking about the future fosters social learning, adaptability and sustainability. In this model, foresight methodologies promote the development of adaptive capacity through the development of options, technologies, and solutions that support sustainability. The consideration and practice of these options opens thinking, consciousness of changes, and the generation of ideas and options for action. The combination of these factors increase the likelihood that decisions move the achievements toward sustainability. The researcher then explores the application of the Sustainability Heuristic Model, the research examines the impact of two case studies, which use foresight methodologies, to think about the future. The research obtained participant views, understanding, and reflections on how foresight processes impact the elements of the Sustainability Heuristics Model. The results of the case studies and cross-case analysis supports the relevance of the Sustainability Heuristics Model, illustrating how foresight processes facilitate the consideration of the future in present day decision making, thus operationalizing a practice where new options are developed leading to sustainability.

Foresight, Sustainability, Sustainability Heuristic Model, Social Learning, Adaptive Capacity, Complexity, Complex adaptive management