The analytics of sustainability is an area where there are many more questions than answers. However, as more and more organizations embrace sustainability as part of their core strategies, we must look at what to measure, how to analyze it, and where to find the insights that matter.
We kick off this two-part special report with a remembrance of Lawrence B. Slobodkin. You likely don’t know of Slobodkin unless you studied ecology or biology, but he was a pioneer in using quantitative data to test models of nature. He brought science to what had been largely an observation-based area of study. He passed away on September 11.
While his book Growth and Regulation of Animal Populations was noted for its innovative use of mathematical modeling, it is the paper “Community Structure, Population Control, and Competition” that is among the most widely cited works in the field. It is but four pages long.
He had what colleagues described as a wide-ranging intellect and restless curiosity that made him “a pioneer in blending mathematical reasoning and empirical observations,” according to Joseph Travis, an evolutionary ecologist at Florida State University.
Though most of us may be wrestling with more business-centered challenges, we can take these lessons from Slobodkin’s life and work:
- Mathematical modeling may be useful in areas where it has not traditionally been used. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope;
- Brevity and clarity in presentation are worthwhile goals — even in academic papers;
- Stay curious. Always stay curious.
If you’d like a introduction to Slobodkin’s thinking without getting an advanced degree in the natural sciences, try A Citizen’s Guide to Ecology.
Tomorrow: a look at the methodology behind Newsweek‘s Green 500 rankings.