Source: Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Number of pages: 31
While there is considerable debate as to the kinds of changes required to achieve it, the idea of sustainability has taken hold. Governments, companies, nonprofit organizations, grassroots groups, and the general public are immersed in wide-ranging discussions and activities to improve the use of the planet’s resources so that future generations can enjoy them. Progress, however, has been limited, episodic, and incremental, at best. Ecological catastrophes continue to occur, and population and economic pressures pose formidable challenges.
This white paper pulls together the definitions of sustainability and the solutions proposed by a group of experts drawn from academia, business, government, think tanks, and nonprofit organizations. The focus is on framing the complex issues involved in sustainability in ways that are actionable and that address not just the non-sustainable aspects of human societies, but also contribute to creating a truly sustainable future. The specific areas of analysis include population dynamics, sustenance, energy, and pollution. The perspectives and roles of the government, academia, business, and nonprofit- organizations are defined and compared.
The most important conclusions have to do with the need for a fundamental rethinking of our values, priorities, and norms of behavior. Policymaking must recognize that sustainability involves complex issues of distributive justice across population strata, generations, and geographies, and that it may require a fundamental reorientation of the role and structure of property rights. The tradeoffs between short-run economic growth and long-term sustainability need to be reconciled through market and regulatory mechanisms that reduce negative externalities without creating perverse effects. Sustainability policies should encourage investments in innovation rather than in production so that we fully take advantage of the opportunities offered by new technologies. Sustainability efforts must be based on sound and appropriate metrics, though without discouraging companies from factoring sustainability into their financial calculations. Corporations, nonprofits, and academics must inform, educate, and engage politicians and policymakers.
After five decades of sustainability debates and policymaking, the world is still lacking a comprehensive strategy that recognizes the complexity of the issues and tradeoffs involved. While setting ambitious goals to effect quantum change is desirable, policymaking needs to recognize that it is impossible to determine with precision all of the actions required to ensure sustainability. Thus, a self-adaptive approach based on trial-and-error and experimentation must be adopted.