by Kenneth Rudich (note: this is another installment for the M-S-M Social Good Campaign)
If any cause can have the power to unite people on a worldwide scale, then it must be the quest to achieve global sustainability. The future of the one race that encompasses all – namely, the human race — may well ride on a shared ambition to address this pressing need.
Arizona State University President Michael Crow describes sustainability as “the intersection of environmental, economic and societal stewardship.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stewardship as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”
The aspiration is to bring our social, economic, and environmental systems into harmony, a kind of poetic coexistence in which they can flourish as one.
In this conceptualization, sustainability extends beyond merely taking away or eliminating negatives to actually replacing them with positives. One goal, for example, is to curb — and ultimately stop — depleting the earth of natural resources by trading the harmful effects of extractive technologies for the kinder, gentler touch of renewable technologies.
But it entails much more than merely going “green” (though an undoubtedly important step); true sustainability will require a comprehensive effort to reverse an already wayward progression on all three of its fronts.
More than just a lofty ambition or noble cause, the necessity to do this with all possible vigor has risen to the level of a clarion call.
diligent and immediate action needed
To be sure, bedeviling issues abound. Not the least of them has to do with the projected growth of the human race.
According to the United Nations Population Division, the earth’s population will swell from roughly 4 billion in 1975 to nearly 8 billion by 2025, with an estimated 98% of the growth occurring in developing countries with low and middle income economies (while population growth in developed countries with high income economies will either shrink or barely grow in the same period).
The World Resources Institute reports, “Population dynamics are at the root of almost every world trend shaping tomorrow’s markets; population growth affects the environment and the health, nutrition, education and wealth of the world’s citizens.”
Sustainability in the wake of such rapid growth can be difficult enough, but the fact that it is mostly concentrated in the poorer regions of the world adds to the weightiness of the task. It is hard, for instance, to overlook the portent contained in the World Resources Institute report when it also had this to say: “The shadows of environmental degradation, poverty and lack of economic opportunity lie across the regions of the world that are fertile ground for ethnic conflicts, hatred, and violence.”
U.N. development experts have expressed a similar concern as they observed that the world is heading toward “grotesque inequalities,” then concluding: “Development that perpetuates today’s inequalities is neither sustainable nor worth sustaining.”
But it won’t be an easy fix, by any measure. Take wealth for instance. In 1998, U.N. Development experts reported that the world’s 225 richest people had a combined wealth of $1trillion. That was equal to the combined annual income of the world’s 2.5 billion poorest people. Unfortunately, that gap has grown larger, not smaller, since.
The gravity of this potentially grim circumstance has summoned the attention of the developed world. The challenge of the future, most experts agree, is to face these issues head on and try to tip the scales in favor of health, prosperity and peace for all.
Harvard Business Professor Michael Porter contends, “The world economy is not a zero sum game in which one country’s success comes at the expense of the others. There is enormous potential growth if many countries can improve in productivity and trade with one another. There are huge unsatisfied human needs to be met in the world, and demand will only increase as more nations become more prosperous.”
Sustainability expert John Crittenden says we must strive “for development of technologies that are ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane.”
raising the tide for all
Though we may not all be in the same boat, the universal need for sustainability places us all in the same body of water. And if a rising tide raises all boats, then we should attempt to focus as much on the tide as we do on the boats.
In no small way, it begins with each of us owning up to our individual responsibility for priming the pipeline to achieve a preferred outcome. The strands of humanity that form as individuals band together can strengthen the overall weave for making good progress.
So what can you do as one person? You can continually seek the skills and knowledge needed to be a productive worker, informed consumer, responsible citizen, and stakeholder in government and business. And at the same time, you can reach out to help others find a similar station in life.
the bottom line
There’s no room in this scenario for anybody to operate as though they live on a boat in their own little body of water. Ignoring or mishandling the common good — also known as the greater good — runs the risk of lowering the tide for all.