Growth and development have consistently been the main focus of both national and international economic strategies. However, seeing the environmental crisis that the current paradigm of development has caused, it is necessary to review the historical approaches that have brought us to the brink of an environmental catastrophe. But is change achievable? And if yes, how?
Working as a Net-Zero and Carbon analyst means that supporting businesses to operate sustainably is an everyday topic of discussion. The more I understand the current challenges that companies are facing, the more I realise the scale of the problem. While policymakers around the globe are setting targets and standards to cut carbon emissions and preserve biodiversity, “real” people out there have to deal with drastic changes in the way they run their businesses. Often, the actual implementation of these measures in everyday proceedings turns out to be less clear cut then expected, with a great deal of unforeseen side effects. And yes, it takes time to “re-learn” what has been considered normal for decades, as well as to keep up with constant updates in local and global agreements. All this, in a world that remains extremely competitive and intensely focused on incremental economic growth.
I find myself thinking about what it truly means to develop sustainably, and despite having a career in sustainability and having spent years reading about it, I still have not found a comprehensive answer. What I do certainly believe is that a new paradigm of sustainable development should be based on downsizing and differentiating the production system. This would require the re-localisation of many productive activities, which does not mean eliminating all forms of international trade, but encouraging a diversified production for domestic needs, shifting the power from transnational corporations to local communities (Norberg-Hodge and Read, 2016). The prioritization of growth needs to be weighted against the implications of processes within their larger context on the long term, and the need for balance to maintain well being.
The transition to a new paradigm of sustainable development cannot be led from above in a purely centralized and top-down manner. It needs to be democratic, based on the active participation and cooperation of intergovernmental organisations, transnational corporations and civil society acting through NGOs or, for example, spiritual communities. The key here is working together towards educating people and re-shape the values embedded in our societies. I cannot lie that when our customers choose “Goal 4 – Quality Education”, as one of their priority goals to embed in their business strategies, I am proud that its importance is recognised.
Education, or more specifically in this case “Eco-literacy”, is needed to encourage this horizontal co-operation between all stakeholders, from local to global actors.
In my opinion, education should be a priority investment on a global scale. And by education, I mean a multilateral approach including insights from academic institutions, activists and practitioners, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the creation of spaces for open debates and exchanges of knowledge, in a continuous effort for collaboration. I think that this cooperation is essential for transitioning to a world where values of simplicity, appreciation of natural resources and solidarity coexist in harmony. This is what Raskin et al (2002) call “The Great Transition”. And as simple as that, this is what sustainable development means to me.
TBL is the perfect example of what a company that develops sustainably is. And I am not talking about the nature of the services we provide, but about the approach that drives every decision within the company. Here, everyone has room to speak up, we learn from each other’s daily. Employees are encouraged to take time for volunteering, to keep developing hobbies and let creativity rise. We are all paid a fair living wage, no matter the age and the experience we have. Our paternal leave policy encourages fathers to have the same rights as mother have, because they need this time to bond with their new-borns. This is key for an equal and healthy society where gender roles are left in the past. The room given to personal growth feeds back into the company as a stream of new knowledge, resulting in creative input and innovation. And let’s be honest, taking care of the environment is, at the moment, a privilege that only who has the capacity, the knowledge and a true passion can fully commit to. That’s why the starting point must be working towards creating a society where are basic needs are met, a society where people have time to connect to nature and appreciate its value, and everyone has the privilege to take the environment into account in each daily decision.
It's going to take a lot of work to make this vision of sustainability become true in the near future. TBL is one positive example between many others, but this critical transition will require time, investments, the replacement of an extraordinary amount of infrastructure as well as a deep economic reorganization (Cook, 2019). Moreover, not all states have the same capacity and motivation to pursue this transition. Building a new sustainable paradigm needs the simultaneous development of international policies and agreements to phase out the previous unsustainable practices. There is still an overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done.
Yet, here I am every day trying to do my best to see this vision of sustainability becoming true, and working to make sure everyone's needs and perspective are taken into account in this transition. Part of my work is to support companies becoming more aware of their impacts and initiate constructive debates on how to overcome them. Each small achievement is a step taken toward Raskins’s “Great Transition”. It can’t be that far!