The Role of Business in Sustainable Development; Green Economics: Professor David Brooksbank, Director of Enterprise at the Cardiff School of Management, Looks at the Difficulties of Sustainable Development
Byline: Professor David Brooksbank
WHILE business traditionally seeks precision and practicality as the basis for its planning efforts, sustainable development is a concept that is not amenable to simple and universal definition.
It is fluid, and changes over time in response to increased information and society's evolving priorities.
The role of business in contributing to sustainable development remains indefinite. While all businesses can make a contribution towards its attainment, the ability to make a difference varies by sector and size.
Some executives consider the principal objective of business to be making money. Others recognise a broader social role.
There is no consensus among business leaders as to the best balance between narrow self-interest and actions taken for the good of society. Companies continually face the need to trade off what they would 'like' to do and what they 'must' do in pursuit of financial survival.
Businesses also face trade-offs when dealing with the transition to sustainable practices. For example, a chemical company whose plant has excessive effluent discharges might decide to opt for a more effective treatment facility.
But should the company close the existing plant over the two or three-year construction period and risk losing market share? Or should it continue to run the polluting plant despite the cost of fines and adverse public relations? Which is the better course of action in terms of economy, social wellbeing and the environment? Moreover, many areas of sustainable development remain technically ambiguous, making it difficult to plan an effective course of action. For example, the forestry industry has had difficulty defining what constitutes sustainable forest management.
Some critics believe that simply replacing trees is not enough, because harvesting destroys the biodiversity of the forest. …