Planning: the Heart of Sustainability

For communities or organizations to ensure sustainability–their existence into the future–they need to be clear about why they exist, what is their purpose and identity, what are their values or operating principles or beliefs and what is their vision for the future.  These planning fundamentals are essential for future organizational development and sustainability.

Mission statements articulate the reason the organization exists.   Mission statements for sustainable organizations need to go beyond preserving the nature of the organization toward having a positive impact beyond itself on the world.  For instance, a religious community’s mission impacting the world is found in its “recognizing its call to proclaim the Gospel through the ministry of preaching and teaching in order to participate in the building of a holy and just Church and society.”  A parish mission statement points beyond itself to “Live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Commit to worship and lifelong faith formation.  Serve others in need.”

Value statements speak to how the organization intends to function-what are its operating principles.  They are essential to all planning processes. If an organization is committed to sustainability both on a micro and macro level, the way it uses resources, both human and material, will be paramount.  A sustainable future is created when resources are used at a rate equal to or less than the rate at which they are created.

Vision is what keeps us going when the going gets tough!  It illustrates what we want to look like in the next five plus years.  It is often more poetic and full of imagery that motivates us on dark and cloudy days.  It points to the success of operating out of a sustainable framework.  It brings hope during times of change when both personnel and financial resources may be diminishing.  In faith-based communities, the vision often reflects the “Paschal Mystery” in action, finding new life in the midst of darkness.

Planning is the main girder in creating sustainable futures.  Its pillars are mission, values and vision.  When these are connected to something broader than enhancing the organization and are based on values and vision rooted in a sustainable world, they are guaranteed to create a better world no matter what the particular mission of the organization is.