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GENERAL THOUGHTS ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

by J. N. Abbott, Quality Manager

Sustainability is a term used more and more over the last 20 years. When  we talk about sustainability we mean the process or processes that we use to maintain the status of a situation stable. “Sustainability” mainly refers to the present while “sustainable development” refers to the future. Sustainability is directly connected to the health of the  planet, and to consider ourselves sustainable, we have to re-organize our activities to consume the less possible of the planet’s sources. Nevertheless, sustainable development has to do with the generations to come and how the planet’s sources will remain fertile and productive  for them too.

A description of Sustainability is expounded by the Agenda 2030 of the UN, that defines the 17 SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) which are:

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Well-Being
  • Quality Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Reduced Inequalities
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
  • Life on Land
  • Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • Partnerships for the Goals

The 17 SDG’s can clearly be classified into 3 pillars: planet, society, economy. Therefore, a company or organization to comply with sustainable principles, must be sensitive, friendly and show self-restraint towards Nature and its sources, display responsibility towards human society and be economically sufficient, conforming to ethics and principles of economy. All these features must not only characterize the processes applied,  but also the culture among its staff.

Why and how could sustainability be connected to economy and society? First of all, we must realize that whatever we do, any kind of activity, big or small, has a social impact of some kind and is measurable in economic terms. Let’s consider a recent trend, seemingly irrelevant with Sustainability: crypto-currencies. No matter what we think about the functionality and origins of crypto currencies or whether we consider them a promising investment or just an independent transaction system, crypto-currencies have a strong social and ecological impact. If we look back the history of eg bitcoin over the last years we can see its impressive yield despite the fluctuations of its exchange rate with other currencies. Bitcoin has gone very popular among young people, mainly in developing countries - and particularly those whose national currencies have become severely unstable - and who see it as a trustworthy alternative. The outcome is that bitcoin increases its followers while the local currency further-weakens. The question is whether the local institutions are strong enough to prevent the bubble from bursting. At the same time “mining” bitcoins turns more and more “energy vorous”: indeed, to deserve a hope to successful “mining”, the user must use elaborate, powerful and energy-devouring equipment (pc’s) to be able to meet the needs of chain blocking and complex algorithms (hashes). What could be the conclusion  of the previous description? That crypto currencies emerge as alternative investment and at the same time as energy devouring systems. Practically, the type of the investment performed via the crypto currencies does not support the real economy and consequently does not contribute to the social well-being while the increasing “mining” equals with a huge waste of energy and is, therefore, environmentally non-friendly.

Similar types of approach we could apply to almost every human activity and likewise we can apply to our businesses. A keen businessman or a diligent salesperson would wonder: “Is this a useless debate about a new utopia?”. Well, utopias have always been a product of troubled times, when a big number of intellectuals argued about the necessity, practicality, ethics etc of a dominant social-economic-political system. Utopias appeared as alternative solutions to a problematic social structure, unfair income sharing and unbalanced quality of life.  Some of them worked, for a period, some did not. In the case of the Agenda 2030, it does not seem like a utopia: the fact that it incorporates economic goals performed via industry, innovation and infrastructure implies that the Agenda intends to be viable. The fact that it sees to quality education, gender equality, reduced inequalities, shows that it is orientated towards humanism. It simply appears to draw red lines to excessive and unreasonable economic activities that affect the natural environment and human life. The limits are set to us by the judgment of what is beneficial for the environment -and consequently ourselves - and are therefore quite objective. The social face of the Agenda 2030 at the same time, resonates Keynsian principles and how to improve our economy ratings through fairer income share and well being for all. Therefore Agenda 2030 is rather a practical guide to a more just, planet-friendly, democratic world.

How could a business be Sustainable? First of all it has to secure its continuity and future. It has to seek for improvement and overcome competition with quality. Then, it must definitely protect its employees and secure the safety in the working place. Some say that the employees are the major asset in a business, yet this sounds both obsolete and inhuman: the employees are not soulless assets, they are humans with needs and dignity and must therefore be addressed to as such. And where people are addressed to, with respect and justice they function better and more productively. The customers must be addressed to with similar respect. The customer is not simply someone who will transfer his money to the business just to buy a product or a service but is a fellow business with specific needs. And therefore, the business must put the target to serve the customer(s) as best as possible. Furthermore, the company must be able to dodge risks efficiently. Practically, all the above describe the structure of a quality system: quality in the relationship with customers and providers, safety in the workplace, risk management…

The business  must also invest in technology and transform most of the workflow into electronic. The workflow will be faster and more productive, and definitely more environmentally friendly: less paperware consumed, less waste produced.  Electrical energy from sustainable sources is also recommended, if this is possible.

We could all participate in this endeavor by adopting these principles, even partly, into our everyday life. It is all those small and simple things that, summed up, improve our lives…

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