The journey of corporate and urban sustainability
In the last decade, activities in the sustainability and sustainable development space have increased by the day. Corporates have employed more sustainability professionals, built robust corporate social responsibility and sustainability teams, and are still doing so. Also, there has been so much noise about urbanisation and sustainable development in the public sector. So many slum communities have been upgraded, power, water, and road infrastructures built, health care and education service delivery improved, and renewable energy sources embraced. Hence, it would not be wrong to acknowledge that so much progress has been made in both the corporate and the public spheres. However, there is a need to reflect upon how much real progress have been made and who is with us on this journey.
Sustainability professionals do amazing work. They help to improve the financial position of organisations without compromising the chances of future organisations to achieve theirs. They improve working conditions in their places of work, ensure that hostile but popular practices such as discrimination in gender, pay, religion, and race are largely phased out, ensuring fairness and justice in the fabric and DNA of organisations. They work to ensure that workers don’t burn out rather they lead satisfactory and balanced lives. They work to reduce the ills of businesses in society, assessing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of investment decisions and operations. They enforce responsible practices in their supply chain, reduce negative social and environmental footprints, ensure quality service delivery to customers and leave positive handprints in communities and on the sands of time.
However, sustainability professionals tend to be aloof and unaware that most of the time they are on a journey with themselves and few other close colleagues and partners. In many organisations that are doing relatively well in sustainability, only a few persons that are in one way or the other connected to the sustainability teams are usually aware of the remarkable activities and efforts being carried out by the teams. But then, it is important to leave no one behind if we would accomplish our vision of a huge and tangible impact.
Every stakeholder must be aligned with this vision. Sustainability needs to be tangible to board members, management and employees alike. Fellow employees should know how much is saved financially and environmentally when the bulbs are turned off or when waste is recycled. In the absence of a sustainability champion, employees should willingly enforce sustainability policies and guidelines. Sustainability should exist in the subconscious of employees to the point where it reflects in their personal lifestyles and choices.
In the same vein, industry peers (competitors, vendors and regulators) should be aware of an organisation’s vision of sustainability, the customers and communities are not to be left out as well. The message of sustainability should be strategically communicated to these categories of stakeholders, educating them on why the organisation is involved in it and why it should matter to everyone. It is only when all key stakeholders are aboard the sustainability train, that we can begin to talk about organisation-wide sustainability.
It is predicted that by 2050 about 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized, but as we build additional cities and megacities, it is imperative that we do not forget to carry every class of people along. Amidst the dividends of urbanization, its history is one fraught with many economic, social and environmental challenges, ranging from rising costs of goods and services, expanding inequality gap, infrastructural congestion, social segregation, forced mass evictions, biodiversity loss, increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and many others.
We must acknowledge that these occurrences happen at the detriment of humanity’s development. In most countries, what we currently have are cities built for a privileged few and which in some cases happen at the detriment of many other underprivileged (usually financially and ethnically) persons. There is deep-rooted distrust between communities, their government and businesses, farther segregation between high-income, middle-income and low-income earners, majority of humanity’s wealth concentrated in the hands of few persons and countries, and ‘stinkingly’ neat high-income neighbourhoods as compared to mucky low-income neighbourhoods with sky-scrapper like heap of wastes.
What must we do? We must enact laws and develop policies that are people-centric. We must make sure that the people who the laws are meant for benefit from them. We must accommodate diverse ethnic and religious groups as well as migrants, after all, we are all humans. We must consciously respect and promote human rights in addition to standing up to human rights infringement in any aspect of society. Our urban centres must be built in ways that encourage social cohesion and not segregation. Our infrastructure must suit both the abled and the physically challenged. Our social services should in deed and in truth be services that are accessible by people in the low, middle and high-income classes equitably. Our economic policies should not put additional strain on the choices of already impoverished persons, rather economically empower them to make varied choices.
Why must we do this? Because there are economic and social costs for not carrying everyone along. When co-workers are not in tune with an organisation’s goal for sustainability, it is certain that very little success can be made. For instance, if an organisation operates and upholds high ethical standards in its headquarter in Geneva but does not monitor its regional and local offices everywhere else, any unethical practice that occurs in these other locations will be reported in the organisation’s name. Similarly, no matter how developed a region is the underdevelopment of the adjacent region(s) will continue to spill into the space of the thriving region.
Consequently, it is necessary that there exists a collective and participatory approach to imbibing sustainability in the corporate workplace, as well as ensuring that our developmental drives at the national and regional levels are sustainable both temporally and spatially.
As we journey, it is exigent that we leave no one behind in this all-important voyage of corporate and urban sustainability.