The Essence of Sustainability



What is left after you’ve peeled off the eco-groovy labels and unwrapped the post-consumer recycled-content packaging? Will the product underneath stand the test of time? Will the business you run survive the next recession? In a word, are they resilient?

Resiliency is all about being able to take the heat, stress, impact, pressure, market changes, etc., and be able to return to business as usual or else leverage what has been learned and adapt. Resiliency leads to quality, timeless products and long-term businesses.

If there is one thing that I have learned on this Ride the Talk cycling trip is that resiliency is at the heart of sustainability. On those days when the sun doesn’t come out from beneath the clouds, when the wind refuses to shift to a tailwind from a headwind, when the road shoulder only gets narrower and more shrapnel-ridden, when the hills get more abundant and steeper: these are the times I dig deep and rely on my resiliency.


Resiliency is that gristly, unshakable part of a person that won’t give up. It’s that piece that always sees the bigger picture and hangs on until the bitter end. It’s that part that keeps plugging away, flexing and adapting as it needs to reach the end goal. I am quite sure that this part lives in my mind and soul rather than my body. It can’t be pointed to in a medical textbook but believe me, it exists. I wouldn’t be writing this dispatch after putting in 105 miles today if it didn’t!

When I was being pummeled by incessant winds over the past few days, I began to think about the cattails beside me. They have the incredible ability to sway, deform and bend yet remain strong and undamaged. This is resiliency in nature. Witnessing a palm tree dance in a hurricane leaves a lasting impression of the beauty and strength that is resiliency. A palm gives where and when it needs to give, tatters and frays where it’s inexpensive to repair, flexes and twists to cast off energy and returns to its original shape when the hurricane passes. It’s able to do each of these things with grace due to design that integrates diversity, redundancy and multifunctionality that has evolved over time.

How do human designs adapt and evolve under duress? Will a product or service design withstand a recession or the next fad? How about a business? Good, sustainable designs will and do if they are designed with resiliency in mind. Just like my resiliency will pull me through to my end goal to make it to Minneapolis.

Take a moment to reflect by watching these videos from the ride: Cattails and Resiliency

Cindy Gilbert / Former Director

Cindy is founder and director of Alula Consulting which specializes in innovative online and sustainability education projects for educational institutions, non-profits, and corporations. Recent clients include The Lemelson Foundation, VentureWell, Green Building Research Institute, University of Montana, PBS, Silverback Films, and more. Cindy has taught numerous courses and workshops, around the world and online, in the fields of biology, sustainability and biomimicry.

Cindy was the founding director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program for 7.5 years which is home to the fully online, multidisciplinary MA in Sustainable Design (MASD) that is the first of its kind in the world. In this role, she fostered a culture of awareness and creativity through sustainable, innovative and collaborative design. Before MCAD, she served for nearly four years as the founding director of university education at the Biomimicry Institute where she developed and managed all higher education programs, including the professional certification program, annual education summits, affiliate and fellows programs, and design challenges. Cindy is based in Montana. Please contact her through LinkedIn.