Sustainability Versus Resiliency: Which Matters Most?

Sustainability Versus Resiliency: Which Matters Most?

Sustainability and resiliency are two terms often used interchangeably, but they have distinctly different meanings. Although they are compatible, reinforce each other, and often overlap, they are not the same.

Either can exist without the other, but these business models are a powerhouse for your supply chain when coupled together.



Sustainability implies continuity; referring to something as sustainable means that, through use and reuse, its resources will never run out. The most popular formal definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: 


Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


Although most often associated with the environment, sustainability also applies to social, economic and environmental needs. Sustainability is where we begin to see things such as environmental KPI monitoring and the push for zero carbon emissions via increased utilization of electric trucks.

Put another way: sustainability starts with a system that is functioning and considers how long the system can continue without being worn down or worn out. Resilience starts with a disruption, figuring out how best to clean it up, and then considering how to prevent it from having the same impact next time.


How Sustainability and Resiliency Interact

Let's take a look at locally-grown food as an example of how sustainability and resiliency interact with one another.

Local food sourcing reduces the fuel (and the costs associated) needed to transport from farm to consumer. Sustainable local gardening methods reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers, further reducing the use of fossil fuel-based products. Locally grown food needs less plastic packaging, yet another reduction in the use of fossil fuel products as well as potentially decreasing packaging expenses of fulfillment centers.

To link sustainability and resilience, we must recognize that each has its place in conservation, society, and the economy. Both sustainability and resiliency aid in all of these, just in different ways.


So…Which Matters Most?

The short answer is that it depends on the perspective of who you’re talking to. Those who emphasize a natural approach to the future cite sustainability as more important. Those who focus on an innovative and adaptive approach to future realities vote for resiliency. Some will argue that sustainability is not sustainable unless the subject (environment, society, economy, etc.) is first resilient; that resilience is the foundation of sustainability in today’s reality. 

Like most things in our world, the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle of all of the above. We need to recognize the differences between sustainability and resiliency, how they can work together, and where the tradeoffs should fall.