A new ‘Zeitgeist’ is increasingly taking hold in growing pockets of society, politics and the business world. All indications point to one direction – towards the concept of ‘sustainability’ dominating human behavior and thinking in the twenty-first century.
>”As the urbanization wave around the globe rolls on, megacities are increasingly becoming the epicenter of human life and economic activity for billions of people. Inevitably, this trend will bring about new challenges and exacerbate looming, well-known challenges such as climate change. As the World Economic Forum notes in a newly-released report on “The Competitiveness of Cities”: “Cities are especially intensive users of energy, food and water, given their concentrations of people and economic activity, and are responsible for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Their challenge, particularly in the developing world, is to fuse technology and markets to become much more efficient in using available resources.” Climate Actions and Economic Significance of Cities Source: Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP); data in overview from various sources Thus, global needs for clean water, sanitation and food as well as demand for energy, mobility (transportation) and for an improved standard of living will increase and put tremendous strain on existing natural resources.
The growing awareness of environmental problems – especially that without a timely, coordinated, and ‘corrective’ intervention by governments the problem of climate change will eventually become irreversible – in addition to the perception of natural resources’ finite supply brings any debate back to the fundamental question of how to sustain life on earth. What is Sustainable Development about? The first association that comes to mind has to do with energy needs in general – and the finite fossil fuel supply amid projected future demand growth – and carbon-emissions-free energy in particular.
Renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydro) have the potential to pick up the slack and supply a larger percentage of projected future energy demand globally. In this context, technological innovation represents one suitable solution to problems related to sustainability. However, a different angle to tackle these problems is a change in human behavior based on better information and awareness leading to energy savings by implementing simple energy efficiency measures. This point emphasizes the importance of public awareness and/or education, which can serve as a catalyst for action – i.e. a change of course. Apart from concerns about energy, the concept of sustainability includes all aspects of political, economic, and social life in so far as present actions may constrict future actions.
The so-called UN ‘Brundtland Report’ from 1987 is very instructive on this topic and defines sustainable development as follows: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development does imply limits – not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities. But technology and social organization can be both managed and improved to make way for a new era of economic growth. […]
To date, many companies have realized the merits of modifying their products and processes to become more sustainable. (…) But, these [incremental] innovations will only get us so far. What we need are not just better products and processes, but fundamentally different business models. We need companies and industries whose underlying structures are, at worst, zero negative impact, and at best, contributing to the regeneration and restoration of natural, human and social capital.” The US utility industry will have no other choice than taking steps along the path towards more ‘value creation from sustainability’ in order to remain a viable business model for future generations.”<