Sustainability: Long-term thinking to sustain people, planet and profit.
This beautiful Earth runs in slow, steady cycles, yielding fruits, flowers and rain and turning to face the sun at just the right speed and angle to make life on Earth possible and pleasant for us human beings. The Earth provides for all our needs through her rhythmic supply of ecosystem services. But we, with our demands for immediate gratification of excessive materialistic desires, are ignoring the reality of the operating speed of our Earth. We are pulling fish out of the oceans faster than they can breed. We are putting chemicals into the soils and waters of the Earth faster than the Earth can absorb, break down and neutralise, resulting in toxic, dead oceans and soils. We are demanding an ever-increasing number of products made from the Earth’s natural resources, faster than the Earth can actually regenerate and supply.
Our demands and desires have become ‘dis-harmonious’ – out of rhythm with the heartbeat of the Earth.
And this is the very essence of ‘unsustainability’ – demanding much more, much faster than the Earth is able to support on an ongoing basis.
The term ‘sustainable development’ is commonly defined as “development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
A core element of this term ‘sustainable development’ is the issue of time and this is a critical key to unlock our current unsustainable behaviour. Psychologists say that young children have difficulty in being able to delay their desire for immediate gratification. A child’s demand for instant gratification tolerates no delay, no thinking about the consequences, no weighing the advantages versus the disadvantages. The child-mind simply says: ‘give it to me NOW, and if you don’t, I am going to stamp my feet and scream till I get it’.
The inability to delay satisfying a desire, in order to consider the consequences before satisfying that desire – is therefore a classic symptom of an immature level of emotional intelligence.
Unfortunately, this immature attitude has been deliberately encouraged by suppliers of consumer products in order to boost their sales and profits. They promote the idea that you deserve ‘instant gratification’ without the responsibility of having to think about the consequences of your instant gratification. And this message has been designed and delivered so well, so effectively and so repeatedly, that it is now seen as a normal and reasonable expectation. And so indeed it is – for children! But not for adults.
To be truly ‘grown-up’, a person needs to be able to see beyond the here and now. An emotionally mature mind is able to delay making a decision, until they have weighed the short-term advantages against the long-term effects of their decisions and actions!
However, whilst we consumers do therefore have a very significant role to play in ensuring the survival and sustainability of the Earth and its eco-systems, it is important to note that our business and political leaders have an even greater role and responsibility as their choices and decisions have a far greater scale of impact.
Yet, sadly short-term thinking is the common norm in both business and politics today. Two of the major contributing reasons are:
- The performance and value of most western capitalist businesses are measured based on their short term (quarterly) results. As clearly demonstrated in Sir Richard Branson’s Book “Screw Business as Usual”, and also demonstrated by the success of the Japanese long-term strategies to dominate the worldwide motor industries – a long term business strategy is very often far more effective and profitable.
- The short-term employment contracts of most business executives and political positions. If there is little prospect of your being around to face the long term consequences of short-term decisions, there is little motivation to introduce strategies or plans that only benefit the organisation in the long-term. If an executive or political employment contract is only five years, then that is likely to be the maximum time horizon of their vision and planning.
In terms of the Earth’s ecosystems and regenerative capacity, five years is the blink of an eye.
Just these two factors alone almost guarantee the prevalence of short term thinking in business and politics.
The very survival of the human race today is thus endangered by the fact that we allow the emotionally immature mentality of short-term thinking to dominate in both our business and political decision making.
To correct this, it is therefore essential that every business executive and senior political appointment should be mandated in their job description and in their Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) to develop a strategy to ensure the long-term sustainability of ‘People, Planet and Profit’ and their salary and bonuses should be linked to their performance and delivery against such a strategy. Without such a measurable ‘sustainability performance strategy’ (SPS) relating to the scope of their own sphere of influence and authority, we have a perfect recipe for long-term disaster.
Let us remember that we put these leaders into positions of power through our political voting and through our consumer buying decisions. We must let them know ‘loud and clear’ that we can and will hold them accountable and will remove them from power if they do not demonstrate a commitment to such a long-term strategy and implementation plan to ensure the long-term survival and sustainability of the Earth and its eco-systems that support all human and non-human life forms on Earth.
In summary, whilst we consumers need to slow down and moderate our levels of material consumption (living more simply today so that our demands do not endanger the survival of our children and their children tomorrow) we also need to demand that our business and political leaders stop behaving in an emotionally immature manner of short-term thinking. We need them to formulate a ‘sustainability performance strategy’ (SPS) to ensure the long-term survival and flourishing of People, Planet and Prosperity.
In closing – remember ‘There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth – we are all Crew” Link here to Sir Richard Branson’s Book “Screw Business as Usual” http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/screw-business-as-usual-read-chapter-one