Academic journal article Competition Forum

Sustainability: Opportunity or Responsibility?

Academic journal article Competition Forum

Sustainability: Opportunity or Responsibility?

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The flood of material in the media and academia on climate change is a clear indicator that serious concerns about the environment exist and are shared among a broad spectrum of people. The estimated three to four hundred thousand people in the New York City 2014 Climate Change march is further evidence of this concern. The United Nations (UN) and its membership have devoted many summits, meetings, time and money to the topic. The UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it amply clear in its series of reports that we have a severe crisis in the making caused by human action. While still a source of debate, we believe this conclusion is based on rigorous scientific research and a consensus by 97% of the world's climate scientists (IPCC, 2013). The consequences of climate change could be catastrophic with increasingly severe storms, sea level rise, melting of ice at the poles, flooding, species extinction and host of other issues. While we will elaborate more on these issues later in this paper, it is sufficient and safe to conclude that climate change is real and it will have severe consequences. Clearly, we have an environmental crisis and it is getting worse. But there is a bigger and deeper crisis.

It is typical for advocates of sustainability to make the so-called business case for sustainability by positioning it as an opportunity to deal with the environmental crisis we now face. In contrast, we will argue that while we do have an environmental crisis on our hands and that this crisis does present opportunities, this framing is self-defeating because it falls severely short in addressing the root causes of the situation we find ourselves in. We will show that limiting the characterization of the environmental issues we face to a crisis and/or opportunity is simply a code for business-as-usual (BAU) (Ehrenfeld & Hoffman, 2013). It is critical that individuals and institutions dig deeper into the environmental issues and assume responsibility for their past and current actions. In addition, it is meaningless to discuss environmental issues alone. We have a world where close to four billion people live below or just above the poverty line, a billion people suffer from chronic poverty, close to a billion do not have easy access to clean drinking water and about two billion people do not have access to electricity. Any characterization of environmental sustainability that does not take into consideration and address the myriad of problems that people at the bottom of the pyramid (Hart & Prahalad, 2002; Prahalad & Hammond, 2002; Prahalad, 2006) face is not only an exercise in futility-it is immoral. Any approach to environmental sustainability must incorporate solutions to poverty as well as take into consideration the increase in consumption by people who have emerged from poverty-even if these consumption levels are minimal (Farias & Farias, 2010). By the same token any discussion of environmental sustainability is meaningless if it does not consider consumption-overconsumption in particular-in a finite world. In the following pages we will explore and analyze sustainability as a multidimensional concept that needs systemic solutions that are driven by human values.

The United Nations orchestrated two major related agreements in 2015. The Paris Climate Change Accord brought nations together to agree to a series of measures to limit the emission of greenhouse gases and global warming. The UN also launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's)-17 goals that represent a comprehensive and ambitious response to the issues and challenges humanity faces today. By juxtaposing issues like poverty, environmental degradation and food security, these goals challenge us to think systemically about the deep linkages between these seemingly conflicting goals. The UN is calling on everyone to participate in the implementation of the SDGs. There is a firm belief (rightly), that it will require the efforts of all sectors-Governments, Non-governmental organizations and Business to commit to working towards these goals. …

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