Legacy vs. sustainability

An on-going joke at our house involves legacy and sustainability. My wife will use the word legacy, and I will immediately break-in with the term sustainability. I use sustainability in a sentence (like that actually happens a lot), and Susan quickly responds with legacy.

The banter arises from a tremendous British TV comedy, 2012, a mock-umentary on the organizing committee for last year’s Summer Olympics in London. It was a bit prophetic at times on issues of logistical complexity, infrastructure schedules and troublesome participants. The series stars Hugh Bonneville, Earl of Grantham of Downton Abbey fame, as Head of Deliverance. Reporting to him are the Heads of Legacy and Sustainability. As they say, hilarity ensued.

An on-running theme was the attempt of the two department heads to separate sustainability from legacy, though both are tightly interrelated.  We at the Foundation certainly understand and appreciate the connectivity of legacy and sustainability, in the sense of sustaining our communities now and long into the future. Legacy is a gift, perhaps property, personal effects or money. It is also the benefit provided to the community, a benefit for future generations. The term sustainability concerns maintenance, support, survival. In the past couple of decades, though, sustainability has become more focused on human sustainability, or how to meet current needs without affecting the ability of future generations to meet theirs. 

Another definition of sustainability, quite applicable in the Foundation world, is “the capacity to endure.”  For an endowment, legacy and sustainability are interdependent.  Legacy must have attention, must be promoted, harvested so to speak.  And to further the agricultural reference, legacy might need a little fertilizer from time to time to endure, sustain and hopefully enhance its benefit to future generations.