When discussing sustainability, business sustainability is generally overlooked. Which issues should be considered when it comes to sustainable business development?
If you read some of this article today and finish 24 hours later, the population of the world will have increased by 200,000 or just over 71 million people in a year’s time. The United Nations published ‘Revision UN world population prospects 2017’ and claim the current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. The claim is this information is essential to guide policies aimed at achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently, China (with 1.4 billion inhabitants) and India (1.3 billion inhabitants) remain the two most populous countries, comprising 19 and 18% of the total global population. In 2024, the population of India is expected to overtake that of China.
The group of 47 least developed countries (LDCs) continues to have a relatively high level of fertility, at around 2.4 % per year. The combined population of the LDCs, currently one billion, is expected to almost double in 2050. The same doubling of the population is expected for the 26 African countries.
The concentration of global population growth in the poorest countries presents a considerable challenge to governments in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which seeks to end poverty and hunger, expand and update health and education systems, achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, reduce inequality and ensure that no one is left behind.
The threat of consumerism
Sustainability became a global word after the World’s First Earth summit in 1992 and was defined in the Bruntland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development of that year. Bruntland defined Sustainable Development as ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’
It is claimed consumerism has resulted in a variety of problems i.e. unrestricted use of technology, excessive exploitation of natural resources, and excessive waste material from increased food production.
All of the former has exacerbated damage to the ozone layer, deforestation, rapid decrease of species, and freshwater shortages. The start of environmental pollution can probably be traced back to the industrial revolution. Since that time more and more ecological issues are becoming evident, and many of them cannot easily be reversed e.g. soil erosion, damage to the ozone layer, shortage of fresh water, and the rapid decrease of forests and species. Currently, most environmental problems can be traced back to food production, hence there is a need for more ecologically sustainable methods.
Sustainable food production is not a new concept and it can be traced back to the teachings of Confucius. While Confucianism stresses the importance of healthy food, it rejects viewing nature as only having instrumental value. This view of sustainability can be as i) humans should restrict the use of natural resources as much as possible ii) harmony with nature is a premise for sustaining humanity; and iii) taking care of the fundamental needs of the people is a premise for ecological sustainability.
When discussing the general concept of sustainability, business sustainability is generally overlooked. Business sustainability is often defined as a mixture of managing financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities. Simply put profits, people and the planet. The previous discussion omits to take account of time. A business needs to show resilience over time and if demonstrating this they will create economic value and contribute to healthy ecosystems and strong communities.
For business development to be sustainable issues such as: economic efficiency (innovation, prosperity, productivity), social equity (poverty, community, health and wellness, human rights) and environmental accountability (climate change, land use, biodiversity) need to be addressed.
There are several best practices that foster business sustainability and aid organisations move along the path from laggards to leaders.
These practices include:
- Stakeholder engagement: Organizations can learn from customers, employees and their surrounding community.
- Environmental management systems: These systems provide the structures and processes that help embed environmental efficiency into a firm’s culture and mitigate risks.
- Reporting and disclosure: Measurement and control are at the heart of instituting sustainable practices.
- Life cycle analysis: Those organizations wanting to take a large leap forward should systematically analyse the environmental and social impact of the products they use and produce through life cycle analysis.
A future world
To survive business, we must not only be aware of our own market but also consider the impact of other businesses on the environment and how they can work together for a sustainable world.
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