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THE QUADRUPLE BOTTOM LINE: THE IMPORTANCE OF INCLUDING SPIRITUALITY IN SUSTAINABILITY


We are living in an extreme crisis: we are amidst the 6th mass extinction since the beginning of life on Earth, a lifestyle model that demands nearly 2 planets in terms of resources and the threat of climate change which poses us the daunting task of cutting our carbon emissions by at least 50% in 10 years to avoid some of the most catastrophic effects.

As the concerns increase, solutions seem to emerge. Technological innovations offering energy efficiency are taking place, businesses are growing more conscious of their impact and global environmental governance agreements are on their way. Nonetheless if we look at the effort required to cut down our carbon emissions to protect our civilization from collapse, the current efforts seem to be no more than palliative measures.

The problem has grown too large and complex. It demands a different mode of thinking and being. As Albert Einstein has put it, we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Hence we need not only to shift how we do business or manage natural resources. We need a complete shift in our values and belief systems – a shift in consciousness.

This shift in consciousness requires us to move away from anthropocentrism, where human wants and needs are put in the center of everything, and a move towards eco-centrism, where the intrinsic value of life on the planet is taken into account. For if we don’t value nature for its own sake, how will we ever make the right choices to protect it? If many of us are not aware of the interconnectedness of the web of life and the role we play in it, how will we ever take responsibility for our own personal impact on the planet?

Time has come to go beyond the idea of a triple bottom line. Balancing people, planet and profit has led to some positive changes such as increased corporate social responsibility, fair trade and general environmental awareness. Yet the change required is in a more subjective and subtle level, the very way we perceive the world. For this, we come to realize that the dimension of spirituality needs to be brought into education, culture and the general social imaginary.

By spirituality we don’t mean a particular religion. We mean a humble recognition that humans are not the center of the world, that selfishness and individualism will ultimately lead to the collapse of all, that pursuing endless material comfort is leading to irreversible destruction and that each single one of us has an impact in the great chain of life. We believe that it is in spiritual awakening where the greatest potential for a change in attitudes and behavior rests.

By considering a quadruple bottom line, where spiritual awareness is equally pursued along with shared abundance, environmental protection and social wellbeing, a more holistic model gains the chance of guiding us towards a new way of life – and hopefully out of this crisis.

In this context India has much to teach to the world. Since the beginning of Indian civilization, material renunciation and the refusal of that which is vain and unnecessary has been perceived as an elevated attitude. The interconnectedness of life has been described in Vedic scriptures thousands of years ago, showing how a harmonious living in the planet takes place once all forms of life are recognized and valued.

Despite the urgency for change, the shift in consciousness and its reflection in action are likely to be a gradual process. For this transition to happen, the sector of education can play a great role. The spiritual insights necessary for a shirt towards eco-centrism can come through the facilitation of experiences that lead to an intrinsic appreciation of nature, greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of life of on Earth. Different types of education centers can carry out this facilitation, such as schools, universities, institutes and NGO’s. By facilitating a shift in consciousness we are training the agents of change: people with a sense of planetary citizenship who can positively affect their communities with regenerative or sustainability initiatives.

Being the current generation, we have the great responsibility of making decisions that will affect the future of many species, including ours. Although any kind of sustainability may seem good at this point, we have to be aware of the fact that some lead to technological fixes that ultimately maintain the destructive status-quo. Promoting a quadruple bottom line is effective as it gives us the opportunity to review our own attitudes and mode of life, the very cause of the problem. Supporting spiritual ecological awareness is likely to be the most powerful tool today, as it is the very basis of ecologically sound behavior.