The Unexpected Renaissance

Haentjens - book coverThere I was in Paris last week,  pretty much minding my business which for the most part consisted of leading a last-semester international  MBA class into the wilds of Sustainable Development, Economy and Society, and my eye fell on a little blue book in the reception area. The title, “Crises: La Solution des Villes” was close enough to the topics that occupy our attention here, that I opened it and started to read. And what I found in the very first chapter was a highly engaging account of how a certain number of European cities, who back in the sixties and seventies were in deep pain mainly as a result of the entirely unanticipated process of deindustrialization, decided to react and turn their desperate situations around. And in the process, separately and together, began to reinvent the paradigm of the 21st century city.

Continue reading

Energy, Equity and Ivan Illich.

Ivan Illich was one of the great early mind-stretchers when it comes to what we today refer to as sustainable development.  An exquisitely cultivated man and exemplary activist, he wrote widely and well on the topic and was one of the most respected alternative thinkers on these issues of his time. Here you have as an example the full text of his brilliant 1973 essay on Energy and Equity. If someone had picked up his message and applied it to policy then in a significant way, the world would be a very different place today. Continue reading

Sustainable Development Timeline: 1962 – 2010

By most calculations the “sustainable development movement“, albeit only latterly by that name. got underway with little initial fanfare with the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. It has been a long and at times quite ragged history. Our friends over at Canada’s The International Institute for Sustainable Development have published the sixth edition of their Sustainable Development Timeline – 2010. (You can download the original document here.) If you have a good feel for this sequence you are already on the way to a first understanding of the broad dynamics of our assignment. We can then build on that. Continue reading

Corporate Sustainability Reporting: It’s Effective

In a growing trend, countries have begun requiring companies to report their environmental, social, and governance performance. George Serafeim of HBS and Ioannis Ioannou of London Business School set out to find whether this reporting actually induces companies to improve their nonfinancial performance and contribute toward a sustainable society. Key concepts include:
• In the past 10 years, corporate investors have shown an increasing interest in the social responsibility of the companies whose stocks they pick.
• The researchers compared 16 countries that required sustainability reporting with a sample of 42 countries that didn’t. Using several measures, they found that the social responsibility of business leaders and managerial credibility increased in those countries with reporting mandates.
• The data provide the first concrete evidence that mandating social responsibility reporting actually makes a positive difference. Continue reading

Leading and Lagging Countries in Contributing to a Sustainable Society

To what extent companies contribute to a sustainable society is a question increasingly important, not only to the companies themselves, but also to investors, the countries they do business in, and civil society in general. But it is a difficult question to answer, with standards just now emerging in the form of “integrated reports” that help companies disclose corporate sustainability efforts just as they do financial data. Continue reading

“Equity” is part of Sustainable Development: Analysis of Policy Link & “Community Mapping”

The term “sustainability” has become a catch phrase for business, government, and non-profits to improve brand image, acquire funding, and pursue ambitious projects. Yet “sustainability initiatives” often neglect to include the public in designing proposals and implementing projects. When organizations apply top-down client based solutions, they fail to advance social justice or empower citizens to be part of the community building process. This greatly undermines the “sustainability” of the effort and does not lead to equitable development. Continue reading