Why some don’t like Sustainable development?

Taking a cue from the book, ‘Walking the Talk” by Holliday, Schmidheiny and Watts, published almost 10 years ago, about why no one likes sustainable development, I think it is more appropriate today to change it into why some don’t like sustainable development – although those ‘some’ do proliferate into those ‘all’!

Why businesses don’t like it

  • The very notion of sustainable development rings a social tone to it – about social justice, fair distribution of wealth, rights and opportunities – not only in one generation but making it more complex by considering the needs of the future generations as well.
  • It is also about internalizing the costs that businesses until recently have been conveniently externalizing and puts pressure to take care of the environment in a more benign fashion ever since industrialization began.
  • It requires partnerships with organizations and people who normally wouldn’t interact with each other – management talking with farmers in Venezuela, accountants talking with loggers in Brazil, designers talking with workers in China etc.

Why environmentalists don’t like it

  • Because, inherently, even the Brundtland commission report had the word ‘development’ in it which means more growth, more consumption, more environmental damage.

Why Governments don’t like it

  • It doesn’t fall into any single ministry or department. Though many governments do have an environmental ministry, but a focused department on sustainability is still lacking

Why general public is still in 2011, somewhat skeptical about it

  • Tired of ‘Green washing’
  • Sounds like ‘giving up’ convenience or sacrificing comforts. Feels like too much work to be sustainable
  • Many believe that environmental degradation is natural and nothing can be done about it
  • And, if something can be done, then it is the businesses and governments job.

Generally, when a crisis hits as seen recently, sustainability budgets are the first ones to be scrapped with focus on purely economic aspect of survival. Finding a champion for sustainable development can be a tough ask in some large organizations, let alone small ones -which are the driving force of any economy in any country.

I listened to a podcast from the Aspen Ideas Fest and the speaker was spot on when he alluded that Sustainability has got to be considered in context with its surroundings – saying that a particular company or a city or a country is sustainable is  without any context – it’s a collectve whole that matters, not just some part in isolation.

Sustainable development is a systems issue – that can’t be treated in isolation, for example, just looking at the increasing financial bottom line is not a healthy indicator of prosperity, when, on one end, the worker conditions down the supply chain are inhumane and deforestation is disturbing the bio-diversity at the other.

Sustainable development may not be a poster child for many, but the smart businesses have realized it as huge business opportunity to do good by doing good…relatively!


8 thoughts on “Why some don’t like Sustainable development?

  1. Where are you based Pankaj? Sustainability is a matter of systems because that’s what makes it so apparently hard/ Our best efforts are overwhelmed by a non-sustainable bias in a system that requires all enterprise to be profitable. If we can know what we are truly buying when we get a product at a bargain price, then it might change the market outcome. A system that internalizes the environmental costs of production decisions should encourage more environmentally aware decision making.Product Stewardship is a step along the right road perhaps.

    1. Hi Sue
      Thanks for your comment. I am from India but currently based in Japan. Agree with you that sustainability is a matter of systems.
      In theory we want to beleive that consumer perception may change on knowing the real cost of a product…but unfortunately the typical consumer wants an ideal mix of price, performance and quality, regardless of the environmental costs.
      Yes, product stewardship will move the businesses to take control of the waste and raw materials – something that ought to be a given.

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