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Understanding Sustainability

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‘Sustainability’ theme has been attracting a lot of attention in recent times. I would like to share my attempts on trying to understand it in this blog. My initial apprehensions on the topic was it was a ‘scrape goat’ for the ‘West’ to be able to better compete against the ‘East’ in a increasingly globalized world. Basically create ‘new trade barriers’ to remain competitive to put it in simple words.  Possible lot of people in the ‘East’ (read developing world) would agree with me. It actually does not surprise me that the Copenhagen Climate summit failed. Given the current state of globalization we are in (i.e. economic crisis after the boom years), its probably a good time to take a big picture view of what ‘Sustainable’ development could mean and how the world could get there. I began my journey by reading the book ‘Sustainability 2.0’. It provided me just the right level of detail I was looking for.

Taking the four dimensions of sustainable development (Environmental, Social, Economic and Institutional) provides a good grouping of Key stakeholders to ensure sustainability. While I got introduced to a lot of new terminology (‘Green washing’, ‘Triple Bottom Line (TBL – Environ, Social & Economic)’ Corporate reporting, Social Balance Sheets,’We Media’, ‘Social Entrepreneur’,….), the point most obvious to me was ‘Sustainability’ is the biggest opportunity and threat for globalization. A lot of (Global) ‘data’ is needed to get insights into what is really sustainable. Can we create a global network of people sharing such data in a open way? Does current corporate culture and institutions (Government, non-profit,..) allow transparent flow of information (including environmental and social data!) to all stake holders? I guess not if ‘personal interests’ collide. So its mostly up to the ‘Citizen activists’ and forward looking corporations to ensure that ‘Sustainability’ actually as the ability to ‘sustain’.

Most Corporate sustainability efforts have been restricted to ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)’ initiatives.  Which mostly amount to getting some media attention for some point initiatives without actually changing status quo. It has usually been ‘grass root’ citizen activism (in the form of many non-profit organizations) that actually forced companies to change course due to media attention for Environmental/Social impact of projects. I think two recent trends in particular have brought new relevance to ‘sustainability’. Thanks to ‘Social Media’ consumers are increasingly aware in ‘real time’ about the actions of Business and are actively voicing their concerns. Globalization has made ‘constant innovation’ mandatory for corporate growth/survival. Companies have realized that my involving the consumers (officially its called Social CRM & Business Network transformation) in Product development new business value can be realized.  These two trends are providing a perfect storm (in my view) for taking a ‘Cradle2Cradle’ view to development.

Following all the discussions on Sustainability one cannot but help ask, so what can I do about it? Having recently watched a SAP Mentor Monday Webinar to see what others are doing and reading some interesting related blog, I am convinced ‘you cannot improve what you cannot measure’. To start with I have tried to consolidate my own ‘carbon footprint’ (fancy term for listing your energy consumption and source). The process made be learn that at home I actually consume daily over 3kWH Energy and 60 liters of water. Must admit had to do lot of paper work before I could get to these numbers, but guess it was worth it to get to my carbon footprint :o)   Having checked the climate impact of my potential air travel (to India from Germany) this year here, I was amazed to learn that my one trip can cause more co2 emission than what a person should ideally be allowed to emit for the whole year!. Even as I try to arrive at my full carbon footprint (travel, work,…), I cannot help thinking measurement is good but you cannot improve what you cannot benchmark against best practices.

So before I stop this section of ‘Sustainability’ journey here, I cannot help getting back to my initial ‘West vs East’ debate. What would it take to convince the East about the importance & urgency of Sustainability? I personally think it would take a lot of Transparency (Open data subject to public scrutiny) and practice what you preach (i.e. eat your own dog food) before we stop thinking about his bridge and actually get to address the problem in a sustainable way :o)

Written by srinivasreddy

March 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm

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