In many international circles, it will sound like heresy. But now it must be asked:
Is sustainable development still sustainable?
And the corollary question:
If it proves viable, how will sustainable development look in the coming decades?
The questions are prompted by the current upheaval in global society. We now face a fierce storm of headwinds and centrifugal forces threatening the global harmony that is vital for sustainable development success.
In his new book, Us Vs. Them international analyst Ian Bremmer spells out the seriousness of this societal infection.
Here’s the money quote from his introduction:
“This book is about ongoing political, economic, and technological changes around the world and the widening divisions they will create between the next waves of winners and losers.
“It’s about the ways in which people will define these threats as fights for survival that pit various versions of ‘us’ and various forms of ‘them’.
“It’s about the walls governments will build to protect insiders from outsiders and the state from its people.”
More specifically on the roiling global forces impeding further sustainable development we see:
This concentration of recalcitrant power sucks out the social oxygen needed for sharing new ideas, as well as for the cooperation and innovation needed for sustainable development growth and success.
The case for optimism
There does appear to be a strong case for optimism. Here's the evidence:
Responsive initiatives by the “new species” companies
The new-age, unprecedented socio/economic power and influence of these companies – Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- prompts the question: What socially-oriented investments and commitments should they make, even with the possibility of sacrifice of some profit?
These digital communications behemoths – and other nascent high-tech companies -- are recognizing, and beginning to address their unique social responsibilities (sometimes under regulatory duress or pressure from employees, investors or customers).
A long-term global program for addressing pressing social issues – The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – is now well underway.
The World Bank’s just-issued “2018 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals” is a guide to the impressive progress already made to achieve these goals. Not incidentally, many of the involved companies are actually developing new businesses to benefit from the transformational opportunities inherent in the SDGs.
Principles of Responsible Management Education
This is the Global Compact–affiliated network of several hundred colleges and universities around the world preparing the next generation of business and institutional leaders for application of sustainable development commitments in their careers.
A new study reported by Bloomberg: “Younger millionaires feel a much stronger sense of personal responsibility to use fortunes to benefit broader society than do their older peers.”
The International Integrated Reporting Council recently produced a framework for “integrated thinking and reporting” - how an organization creates long term value in the context of its external environment. Networks of companies in a dozen countries around the world are applying the Council’s principles to their planning and reporting.
Ian Bremmer concludes his book – and perhaps provides us with an appropriate summation – with these hopeful sentiments:
“Human beings use their natural ingenuity to create the tools they need to survive. In this case survival requires that we invent new ways to live together.
“Necessity must again become the mother of invention.”
Adapted from “Innovation, Integration Driving Business Evolution Toward Sustainability”, Sherpa Institute 20018 Virtual Global Conference, June 20, 2018
Image credit: Flo Maderebner/Pexels
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