Can the system be changed for sustainability? And how?

by Lucia Mollea, GLOBUS Correspondent

“It’s difficult for our business to grow: the prices for our products are higher than the average, the market is not in our favour.” I have been talking to a woman running a biological agricultural industry who has decided to invest in a sustainable growth for her business. They use non-polluting glass packaging instead of the common plastic, they do not use fertilisers and take care at every step their production is best for both the consumer and the environment.              

This made me reflect. The common imaginary usually only associates’ sustainability with environmental protection. Sustainability is a complex word to define and it is even harder to achieve, but all three sustaining pillars – social, environmental and economic – must be considered for it to be effective.               As reported by Lee Scott (2005), former CEO of Walmart, sustainability must be “for the people and for the environment” (Spicer and Hyatt, 2018). However, this is a hard task to accomplish. Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainability but most of the times they are not in the position to do so. They cannot afford higher-priced products even if they are aware of the major benefits for their own health and the environment (Spicer and Hyatt, 2018). This reflects what is highlighted by the Environmental Kuznets Curve: environmental protection is a luxury good, which is pursued only by richer individuals and/or societies (Grossman and Krueger, 1991). Moreover, it is hard to produce sustainable products at a low cost in a society where businesses, especially if big, prioritise monetary profit. It follows that the contemporary society urgently needs a drastic change in its production and consumption patterns.

 Current environmental conditions worsen the situation as we begin to act as though our house really is on fire (Thunberg, 2019). The flaws which cause environmental degradation have been studied by academics and long-term possible solutions have been formulated. However, time is not in our favour and effective action urgently needs to be taken.

Looking at historical examples, it is remarkable how many big changes have happened with a combination of revolution and enforcement. A revolutionary movement can be seen happening in present days. The Global Strike of students of the 15th of March seems one of its main expressions so far, with the younger generation appearing passionate and willing to take concrete action against climate change and supported by more than two hundred academics (Taylor, Laville, Walker, Noor and Henley, 2019). When communities are conscious of problems and actively behave to change the situation, achievement is likely.

Nevertheless, official rulers retain formal power. Nowadays, politicians do not seem too keen on taking serious action on the matter. All around the world, from Donald Trump in the US to Bolsonaro in Brazil, politicians have denied or outright mocked climate change and students’ protests. Though the environmental crisis is often wrongly politicised, the fact remains that it is one of the few big problems that is important to every individual, regardless of one’s political ideas, economic background or cultural beliefs. Leaders must realise that climate change is real and that its consequences will be disastrous if action is not taken. We are panicking, but only strict and powerful restrictions to businesses’ and citizens’ behaviour can lead to a fast change. We need leaders to move.

Header Image: Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

List of references.

Grossman, G. M. and Krueger, A. B. 1991. “Environmental impacts of a North American free trade agreement”. The National Bureau of Economic Research. Working paper n. 3914, 1991.

Spicer, A. and Hyatt, D. G. 2018. “Walmart tried to make sustainability affordable. Here’s what happened”. The Conversation, 2018.

Taylor, M., Laville, S., Walker, A., Noor, P. and Henley, J. 2019. School pupils call for radical climate action in UK-wide strike. The Guardian, 2019.

Thunberg, G. 2019. Speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

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