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Sustainable Business: Are we heading in the right direction?
Published: 01 November 2011 by MDPI in The 1st World Sustainability Forum session Governance & Sustainability
Abstract: Sustainable development (SustD) – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – has become a major issue of focus for business, government, and society generally, at local, national, and international levels. Evidence abounds of the increasing extent to which the business sector is embracing the SustD concept – the UN Global Compact (http://www.unglobalcompact.org/), the work of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (http://www.wbcsd.org/), the Equator Principles for the banking sector (http://www.equator-principles.com/), and the increasing uptake of sustainability reporting (http://www.globalreporting.org/) are just a few examples. But the current mainstream SustD narrative, as it is formulated in business and political circles, is only one approach to how humanity might go about living sustainably. But is it the one most likely to see a sustainable world come about? Are we really heading in the right direction? This paper critiques the current dominant SustD approach using socio-ecological resilience theory, and the Ecological Footprint measure in conjunction with the I=PAT identity. It considers current and future Ecological Footprint trends, and how key SustD strategies directed towards human population numbers, economic growth, and technology solutions, interact to progress or retard the achievement of a sustainable world. Socio-ecological resilience theory is used to explore the extent to which mainstream SustD either builds resilient societies and ecosystems, or undermines resilience leaving society vulnerable to broad-scale social and ecosystem collapse. The paper argues that mainstream SustD is challenging to believe as credible. Rather than helping society achieve needed change, this approach instead creates a false sense of progress that acts as a barrier to the more decisive action that is necessary to address the underlying drivers of humanity\'s unsustainable behaviours. Further, some of the core technology strategies advocated by this approach, and on which the business sector focuses its sustainability efforts, are shown to have flow-on effects that can work against the very objectives they seek to achieve. The paper concludes that the business sector has the power and influence to drive needed change, and can do so by embracing a more transformational sustainable world approach in both its internal activities and in its advocacy in the broader public and political space. Although focusing on the business sector, the findings of this critique are equally relevant to other social actors in their pursuit of sustainable world outcomes including governments, religious organisations, educational institutions, NGOs, communities, and individuals. What is needed is for business, political, and community leaders to take a stand and rally together to drive needed change.
Keywords: Sustainable development; Sustainable business; Ecological footprint; Resilience; Transformational change.