Sustainability Through Spirituality

Sustainability Through Spirituality

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Sustainability is the buzz word in the world today laid by the promotion of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) succeeding Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However the concept of sustainability is not comprehended by many. Though CSR is linked to sustainability but the practical solution to achieve sustainability goals has not been comprehended by any intellectual source even after the failure of MDGs.

CSR VISION’s research team has conceptualized the practical roadmap for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This story tries to look at the three bottom lines under sustainability with a holistic and systematic vision and identifies RESPONSIBLE conduct of the human beings as the foundation to positively impact the three bottom lines and therefore argues for promotion of responsibility as a foundation for strengthening the three bottom lines.

As any reader would appreciate, the responsible human conduct is primarily induced by spiritual practices and therefore promotion of spirituality (not religion, the dogmas, faith and belief etc.) as the catalytic process to be promoted more aggressively with a vision of achieving sustainability goals.

Religion is universally controversial with conflicting views and perceptions which has potential to create division whereas spirituality is logical and scientific and therefore has the capacity to bind and gain acceptability all over the world along with the experts involved in planning and implementing processes and programmes for achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

An ethical standard of social system influences the business/corporate system as depicted in the given box.

Corruption cause the world about one trillion dollars every year, it transfers wealth from the powerless to the powerful. A corrupt people cannot trust their own society, globally corruption is the norm that some cultures had found a cure. One of our team members’ first experiences of culture of trust was on Holland, when the host took him to a diary to buy milk, he has never heard machines milking cows, and no one was selling the milk. His friend just opened the tap, filled his jug, then he grabbed a bowl filled with cash and paid 20 guilder note, took the change and started walking away with the milk. He said to his friend that if you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money. In a flash our colleague understood a basic cause of our nation’s poverty. If customers took the money and the milk, the dairy owner would have to hire a Sales Girl. But if the consumer is corrupt why the supplier would be honest. He would add water to increase the quantity of milk, frustrated by the water drowning milk the consumer would ask the government to appoint milk inspectors but why should to the inspector be honest, he would take bribe and the allow the adulterated milk to be sold, the consumer will have to bear the cost of the milk, the water, salesgirl, the inspector and the bribe none of which add any value to the milk, in paying for them the consumer pays simply for his sin of being dishonest and paying for all this means that he doesn’t have any money left to buy products that actually adds value affecting the Quality of Life of the individual which in term affects the Quality of Life of society.

Corruption ridden businessman will waste time in dealing with Corruption, leaving no time for business innovation, value addition and growth. Thus lack of ethics in Society affects social well-being, business performance and the environment conservation. Essentially, responsible/ethical conduct of human beings influence the three bottom lines.

Above story exhibits the relationship of ethics in society with success in business and Quality of life in Society.

Therefore, effort to build a responsible corporate is meaningless in absence of initiatives to build a responsible society. This is because all relevant stake holders of business/ corporate emerge from and operate within the social systems. Perennially, the role of spirituality has been to enhance the standard of morality and promote responsible conduct in the society. Therefore it is in the best interest of the social systems, environment system and corporate system to promote spirituality whole heartedly to improve the level of morality and ethics in Society.

The Sustainability Revolution is sweeping the World through promotion of MDGs and SDGs. Therefore, Sustainability as a concept need be thoroughly appreciated.


“Sustainability” is a concept that acknowledges the interconnectedness of social, environmental and economic concerns, and the need to achieve a better balance between the three in order to ensure that future generations will survive and thrive on Earth.

This is commonly referred to as the “triple bottom line” People, profit and planet (or: Equity, Economy, Ecology).

“Sustainability” has become a leading framework shaping social responsibility, environmental protection and carbon mitigation efforts, amongst other initiatives within corporations, governments, colleges and universities, nonprofits, and other sectors.


1. Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability is defined as a responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental quality. The practice of environmental sustainability helps to ensure that the needs of today’s population are met without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

2. Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability is an integrated part of sustainability and means that we must use, safeguard and sustain resources (human and material) to create long-term sustainable values by optimal use, recovery and recycling. In other words, we must conserve finite natural resources today so that future generations too can cater to their needs.

3. Social Sustainability

Social sustainability is an often overlooked aspect of sustainability, as sustainable development discussions often focus on the environmental or economic aspects of sustainability. All three dimensions of sustainability must be addressed to attain the most sustainable outcome possible.

Social Responsiblity

“Social sustainability occurs when the formal and informal processes; systems; structures; and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and livable communities. Socially sustainable communities are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic and provide a good quality of life.”

Social sustainability is “a process for creating sustainable successful places that promote wellbeing, by understanding what people need from the places they live and work. Social sustainability combines design of the physical realm with design of the social world infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities, systems for citizen engagement, and space for people and places to evolve.”

“The ability of a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community.”


The motivations behind sustainability are often complex, personal and diverse. It is unrealistic to create a list of reasons why so many individuals, groups and communities are working towards this goal. Yet, for most people, sustainability comes down to the kind of future we are leaving for the next generation. Sustainability as a value is shared by many individuals and organizations who demonstrate this value in their policies, everyday activities and behaviours. Individuals have played a major role in developing our current environmental and social circumstances. The people of today along with future generations must create solutions and adapt.


As discussed in the above case study of milk buyer, the ethical conduct of the milk buyer and other buyers like him influences the entire dairy business, making it strive for high quality and low price which benefits the society in return while benefitting the business too by reducing the cost and increasing profitability. Thus responsibility of public benefits public and business.


Sustainability is a long term concept referring to the availability of natural resources to the future generations as well as survival of the social systems and environmental systems which are mutually dependent on each other.

The sustainability of the environment as well as the sustainability of the society which are challenged by climate change for the environment, social unrest and terrorism for the global society respectively. The social conflict and social unrest as well as environmental degradation can be controlled by responsible conduct of the social beings, simply because no other beings in the universe act to influence others. Therefore the conduct of the human beings is the key for building a sustainable society and sustainable environment in terms of its dealings with the human society as well as with the environment.


A business grows and survives on the strength of the support of the stake holders which includes the consumers, the employees (present and the future), supplier, banker and the government. As it can be appreciated that all the stake holders operate from within the society and therefore the standard of responsibility of all these stakeholders influence the quality of success and failure of business/corporate. It is therefore obvious that the success and failure of business which depends on the responsible conduct of the stake holders, who constitutes almost whole of the society. Therefore the standard of the responsibility of the society has direct bearing on the business performance.

This is amply evident by the case of the milk buyer and his responsible/ irresponsible conduct as a consumer influencing the business performance of the dairy business.


India is said to be the spiritual guru of the world having answers to all the developmental challenges of the world, by virtue of its strength of spirituality and ancient knowledge system.

The Bhagavad Gita, the most widely acclaimed and revered spiritual scripture, says in chapter 8, verse 3 that:

The Indestructible transdental living entity is called Brahman; and his eternal nature is called the self. Actions pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.

And in the Verse 4 of chapter 8, it says:

The physical nature is endlessly mutable, the universe is the cosmic form of the supreme lord and I am that lord represented as the super soul dwelling in the heart of every embodied being.

The above two verses bind the entire universe particularly all living beings. The consciousness of this bond among all living being induces all living beings to be responsible to other living beings. The spiritual bondage among all living beings make the human beings responsible to not only to the human being/human society but also to the animals and the plants. Therefore it can be claimed that these very spiritual messages act as a fountain head for inspiring responsible conduct among human beings: human society. We may generalize spirituality is the foundation for building the structure of a responsible society.

With increasing ethical issues and global corporate scandals, many organisations are now looking to employ well-rounded professionals, who take ownership of their workplace while leading with their heart and soul. These organisations seem to be more concerned with relationship building and future employability and are interested in the concept of spirituality with the hope that it could address ethical issues influencing their businesses.

Spirituality and ethics are core values that have shaped human life from time immemorial. Ethics and spirituality are interrelated but different as ethics is about customs and habits, while spirituality is concerned with personal meaningful experiences and differs from person to person, making it hard to define.

However, Spirituality is commonly known as a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than us, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experiencesomething that touches us all.

A lot of people mistake spirituality as religion or some mysterious, supernatural occurrence.


Spirituality is confused with the religion, to have clarity on this; a box is given below:

Spirituality vs. Religion

What is religion, and what is spirituality? They have a common subject-matter, but their approaches are very different.

Both religion and spirituality teach that there is more to the universe than what meets the eye, and more to our life than the physical body. Both agree that there are non-physical elements to the universe, and to our existence, and that unless we consciously connect with them, we will never be truly fulfilled in life.

The core difference between religion and spirituality is that religion presents you a set of beliefs, dogmas and “holy men” as intermediaries between you and Spirit (however you may name it); while spirituality promotes your individual autonomy in defining and connecting to Spirit as it fits your heart and mind.

The difference between religion and spirituality is not so much about what you believebut about how you live, and what your attitude is. In any of the spiritual/religious traditions on Earth, you will find a majority of people who follow it as a religion, and a minority who follows it as a spiritual path.

Both religion and spirituality have their function in the world; but they are usually different things for different people. Understanding their differences helps to define what you are practicing, and if it is serving you well.

Religions say they are the only path. Spirituality says every person has a unique path.

Religion asks you to believe. Spirituality asks you to look.
Religion has dogmas. Spirituality has wisdom teachings.
Religion wants obedience. Spirituality wants experimentation.
Religion speaks of sin and hell. Spirituality speaks of karma.
Religion wants to comfort you. Spirituality wants to liberate you.
Religion is external. Spirituality is internal.
Religion is the form. Spirituality is the essence.
Religion wants to convert you. Spirituality wants to inspire you.
Religion is an institution. Spirituality is a journey.

The table clearly indicates the power of spirituality to induce responsible conduct of a human being in his interface with society, environment and business creating a sustainable society, sustainable business and a sustainable environment.

In the modern age of science and technology, the common man is moving away from religion par say and more attracted to spirituality because of its scientific orientation. The section below clarifies the scientific orientation of spirituality different from religion.


Since we entered the so-called “age of reason”, with the ability of science to explain and transform reality around us constantly increasing, and the general level of education also rising for everyone, people feel less drawn to seek organized religion as a tool for explaining the world and creating well-being.

And yet we humans have this inherent thirst for meaning in life, for a higher purpose, and for strong principles to lead our livingwhether individually or socially. Here is the role of spirituality in the third millennium.

We live in an age of overindulgence, of instant gratification. We have more physical comforts, entertainment and knowledge than ever before in history. This is certainly a result of the advances in science and technology in the past century.

But why then.

  • Are mental health problems on the rise as never before?
  • Do many of us feel an emptiness inside, a lack of real fulfillment and contentment, even if we have financial security, stable income, a good family, plenty of comfort and an established career?
  • No matter how much we acquire in our material life, and how much we understand about the physical universe around us, there is still a deeper itch that is never scratched?

Here is the role of spirituality in the third millennium. Spirituality fills the gaps left behind both by organized religion and by scientific materialism.

Nowadays we cannot believe the dogmas of religion anymorenot like before. But when living life from the point of view that science is the only valid way of determining truth, we find ourselves in a cold, mechanistic, and indifferent universe.

We believe that spiritualityin its myriad expressionsis the best means to give meaning to human life. It is also the strongest basis for human goodness and ethical conduct in society. Without spirituality, often all the morality we are left with is the law, and there is really no reason why one should not “do anything one can get away with.”

  • Religion says that truth is what the scriptures say, and you must believe it.
  • Science says that truth is only the facts that can be experimentally proven through measuring devices, equations, and reason.

Spirituality says that reason is not the only means of knowing, but that this doesn’t mean one needs to have blind faith in religious doctrines either. We accept how little we know about the universe and about ourselves, and explore a deeper meaning in life through tools such as meditation, contemplation, self-explorationand also reason, scriptures, altered states of consciousness, and anything we can get hold of.

Therefore, the final difference between religion and spirituality is that spirituality can dialogue with science, while religion can’t. Indeed, the whole meditation and mindfulness movement in the past couple of decades is a result of this dialoguescience investigating spiritual practices.

This is just the beginning of a new era, when science and spirituality work together.

Science and spirituality each have their own domains of knowledge, their own unique methods and purposes. They both are good at different things, and they both need each other.

Spirituality is concerned with finding subjective truths, meaning, connection and fulfillment. Its subject matter is human growth, happiness, and transcendence.

Science is concerned with finding objective truths about the external world. Its subject matter is knowledge, information, invention.


This seems to be the direction we are moving towards: a spirituality informed by science, and a science informed by spirituality. Science will clean up spirituality of superstitions; and spirituality will elevate science, making it review some of its materialistic assumptions. The concepts of meditation, karma, reincarnation, and enlightenment will play an important role in this developmenta trend that we have seen since the early days of the New Age movement.

As presented above, the science and spirituality both deal in logical reasoning of things. While science deals in identification of matter, spirituality deals in introduction of self and the supreme self and the relationship between the two. Thus the approach of science and spirituality is fundamentally same, i.e. centering on questioning.


Appreciating the relevance of spirituality and its impact on people’s conduct, corporations have started using spirituality as a tool for improving the employee performance and promoted under various jargons like spirituality and workplace’, spirituality and employee performance’ etc. In contrast what this present advocates is to use spirituality for improving the conduct of society at large, from which the employees are drawn.


As discussed above, responsible human conduct is the foundation on which a sustainable world can be conceived. Essentially, human responsibility is the pre-requisite for sustainability. As presented in the milk buying case study above, responsible social/ human conduct influences successful/sustainable business while influencing sustainable society.

Now after the business, comes off to a level of working for the society under CSR among various social developmental activities, it needs to promote responsibility as a catalytic input which has the potential to influence sustainability in a holistic way including the domains like business, society and the environment. Thus all the three bottom lines, as per the theory of triple bottom line, can be effectively taken care of, if responsibility in the society is given the top priority for promotion as a developmental practice / CSR Activity.

Who am I?

The CSR eligible companies with a commitment to implement social and environmental development projects can give priority to promotion of responsible conduct in the society, which in turn can contribute positively to sustainability in all domains including business, society and environment.

CSR and sustainability with responsibility and spirituality

The picture given above tries to establish linkage among the high sounding concepts like CSR and sustainability with responsibility and spirituality among which responsibility is the key.


As discussed above, responsibility is the key for achieving sustainability in every domain like business, environment and society. Therefore the CSR activities of businesses need to appreciate this linkage and promote responsibility through spirituality for the overall achievement of sustainability. For doing so, corporations needs to aggressively invest in promotion of spiritual principle and practices as the CSR activity in place of contributing to routine unsustainable adhoc charity activities in the area of building schools, hospitals etc.

For e.g. promotion of yoga, meditation, preaching of Bhagavad Gita and organizing discourses in public places, commissioning studies and instituting chairs in universities and setting a center of excellence in spirituality in prominent universities can go a long way in inculcating habit of responsibility among human beings/citizens/consumers/potential employees as well as controlling corruption in business, society and encroachment to environmental territories.

However government of India has to appreciate the essence of the above story and the need for promotion of responsibility as prioritize CSR activity with a capacity to influence the whole domain and therefore add promotion of spirituality (not religion) and responsible conduct to the initial list of schedule VII.


The present story prescribes a new vision for achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which has the potential to influence the thinking of policy makers and actors at global, national and ground level. Therefore this is recommended, the issue may be discuss and debated in the National level policy making for promoting spirituality as a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activity under schedule VII of section 135. In addition, the subject may be discussed and debated in the media for attracting attention of thinkers and policy makers.

In addition SDG committee may consider adding spirituality and yoga promotion as the 18th goal to help achieve other goals.

(Source: CSR VISION Team)

About the author

CSR VISION is India's (probably World's) first monthly magazine in print devoted to CSR and Sustainable Development for bringing together all stakeholders of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT at a global and local levels and act as a platform for promoting strategic CSR and sustainable development practices through dissemination of information and knowledge.