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Is Sustainable Development still sustainable?

 

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?

(“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – Brundtland Report, 1987.)

The questions are prompted by the sudden upheaval in global society. Primarily in the last two years, change has become so rapid and so significant that we now face a fierce storm of headwinds and centrifugal forces threatening the global harmony 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 forsurvival 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 widening divisions roiling globalization and impeding sustainable development, three macro forces:

 

 1. Attacks on globalization via tariffs, economic walls, protectionism and xenophobic, populist nationalism  (“globalization -the cross-border flow of ideas, information, people, money, goods and services.”)

At the heart of such attacks: authoritarianism vs. liberal democracy and institutions. Autocratic national governments are increasingly undermining liberal institutions such as the free press, law and order and diversity.

This concentration of power sucks out the social oxygen for sharing new ideas, as well as for the cooperation, and innovation needed for sustainable development growth and success.

 2. The international  refugees dilemma

A historic high of some 65 million people around the world are now displaced from their homes due to extended wars and a lack of immigration solutions.

The tragic consequences: vast, complex humanitarian issues and a plague of the Us-Vs.-Them virus. 

Moreover, much of this turmoil is the result of myths about migrants as reported in The New York Timesextensive report, “Migrants Are on the Run Around the World and Myths About Them are Shaping Attitudes” https://nyti.ms/2lntxVF 

3. New species of companies generating new kinds of macro social isseues.

Consider two relatively new company species:

Digital behemoths such as Google, Facebook and Twitter represent a new stage of business generating or magnifying existential issues such as personal privacy, truth vs. “fake news” and the subtle, addictive psychological effects on users of their products.

The coming wave of companies developing and/or applying Artificial Intelligence causing job displacements, vast economic and safety issues and potential use in anti-social applications such as weaponry.

What are the social responsibilities of these companies? How are they being met? What does a company owe to its country – and society?

 

The case for optimism

Having cited these serious threats to sustainable development, there nevertheless appears to be a strong case for optimism. Some positive predictions forecasting a new sustainable development era:

 Business for Social Responsibility:

“Redefining Sustainable Business: Management for a Rapidly Changing World”

 Network for Business Sustainability:

“New forces are shifting the sustainability landscape … How we can navigate it together.”

 Former Vice President  Al Gore:

“We’re in the early stages of a sustainability revolution … Businesses and investors alert to this shift will reap the benefits, and will be the engines of change.”

 More important than rhetoric, there is 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 sampling:

On data protection and user privacy, the data leviathans are racing to comply with the European Union’s new “Data Protection Regulation.”

Facebook has just hired an additional 10,000 “news curators” to remove objectionable content.

A Twitter co-founder is addressing the data industry’s concerns over “the addictive qualities of popular internet services”

Largely because of employees’ demands, Google is phasing out a contract with the U.S. military.

And Microsoft employees have just launched a virtual workplace revolt over the company’s relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

 

A long-term  global program for addressing  pressing social issues – The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals –  is now well underway.

In September 2015, UN member countries adopted a set of seventeen fundamental goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved by the year 2030.

To get an idea of the progress to date, visit The World Bank’s just- issued “2018 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals”. This document is a new visual guide to the data and development of work to achieve the goals.

Not incidentally, much of this progress is based on the tri-partite partnership model ofcompanies, governments and NGOs working in concert.

Many of these advanced companies are actually developing new businesses to respond to the transformational opportunitiesinherent in the SDGs.

 

Omens?

SD supporters may also be encouraged by at least three promising socio/economic trends including:

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 has 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.

 

 In the final analysis, regimes are not permanent, leaders and their policies can be replaced.

Ian Bremmer concludes his book – and perhaps provides us with an appropriate conclusion here – 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 livetogether.

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

(“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – Brundtland Report, 1987.)

The questions are prompted by the sudden upheaval in global society. Primarily in the last two years, change has become so rapid and so significant that we now face a fierce storm of headwinds and centrifugal forces threatening the global harmony 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 forsurvival 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 widening divisions roiling globalization and impeding sustainable development, three macro forces:

 

 1. Attacks on globalization via tariffs, economic walls, protectionism and xenophobic, populist nationalism   

(“globalization -the cross-border flow of ideas, information, people, money, goods and services.”)

At the heart of such attacks: authoritarianism vs. liberal democracy and itsinstitutions. Autocratic national governments are increasingly undermining liberal institutions such as the free press, law and order and diversity.

This concentration of power sucks out the social oxygen for sharing new ideas, as well as for the cooperation, and innovation needed for sustainable development growth and success.

 2. The international  refugees dilemma

A historic high of some 65 million people around the world are now displaced from their homes due to extended wars and a lack of immigration solutions.

The tragic consequences: vast, complex humanitarian issues and a plague of the Us-Vs.-Them virus. 

Moreover, much of this turmoil is the result of myths about migrants as reported in The New York Times extensive report, “Migrants Are on the Run Around the World and Myths About Them are Shaping Attitudes” https://nyti.ms/2lntxVF

 3. New species of companies generating new kinds of macro social issues

Consider two relatively new company species:

Digital behemoths such as Google, Facebook and Twitter represent a new stage of business generating or magnifying existential issues such as personal privacy, truth vs. “fake news” and the subtle, addictive psychological effects on users of their products.

The coming wave of companies developing and/or applying Artificial Intelligence causing job displacements, vast economic and safety issues and potential use in anti-social applications such as weaponry.

What are the social responsibilities of these companies? How are they being met? What does a company owe to its country – and society?

 

The case for optimism

Having cited these serious threats to sustainable development, there nevertheless appears to be a strong case for optimism. Some positive predictions forecasting a new sustainable development era:

 

Business for Social Responsibility:

“Redefining Sustainable Business: Management for a Rapidly Changing World”

 

Network for Business Sustainability:

“New forces are shifting the sustainability landscape … How we can navigate it together.”

 

Former Vice President  Al Gore:

“We’re in the early stages of a sustainability revolution … Businesses and investors alert to this shift will reap the benefits, and will be the engines of change.”

 

More important than rhetoric, there is 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 sampling:

On data protection and user privacy, the data leviathans are racing to comply with the European Union’s new “Data Protection Regulation.”

Facebook has just hired an additional 10,000 “news curators” to remove objectionable content.

A Twitter co-founder is addressing the data industry’s concerns over “the addictive qualities of popular internet services”

Largely because of employees’ demands, Google is phasing out a contract with the U.S. military.

And Microsoft employees have just launched a virtual workplace revolt over the company’s relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

 

A long-term  global program for addressing  pressing social issues – The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals –  is now well underway.

In September 2015, UN member countries adopted a set of seventeen fundamental goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved by the year 2030.

To get an idea of the progress to date, visit The World Bank’s just- issued “2018 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals”. This document is a new visual guide to the data and development of work to achieve the goals.

Not incidentally, much of this progress is based on thetri-partite partnership model ofcompanies, governments and NGOs working in concert.

Many of these advanced companies are actually developing new businesses to respond to the transformational opportunitiesinherent in the SDGs.

 

Omens?

 

SD supporters may also be encouraged by at least three promising socio/economic trends including:

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 has 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.

 

 

In the final analysis, regimes are not permanent, leaders and their policies can be replaced.

Ian Bremmer concludes his book – and perhaps provides us with an appropriate conclusion here – 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 livetogether.

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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