The Path to Sustainability

The path to sustainability is in our hands. We usually form organisations to deliver services and/or manufacture products. By doing so, we place tremendous pressure on all ecosystems that sustain our way of life. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and maybe before that time too, humans have created a linear model for manufacturing natural resources to fulfil their basic needs. We are culturally accustomed to extract, process, commercialize, use and discard resources and materials. This applies both to the delivery of services and the manufacturing of products. Day by day, we are facing the environmental, social and economic consequences of applying that linear model. This reality has paved the way for concepts like social responsibility, sustainable development and sustainability: three interrelated concepts, which are usually used as synonyms, but have their differences.

Social responsibility refers to how an organisation responsibly manages its environmental, social and economic risks, as well as impacts and opportunities at present. It is key to understand that every decision and activity to deliver a service, and/or produce a product has an impact. Development is not neutral. Social responsibility is a management model based on principles and values, and that is the main difference with any other management model applied by organisations. The application of principles and values act as the necessary sieve to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible decisions and activities. By applying social responsibility, organisations are making a contribution to sustainable development. The International Standard (ISO) 26000 clearly states, "the objective of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development"1.

If an organisation wants to contribute to sustainable development, it needs to use the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations as a guiding framework to orient its business model. The 17 SDGs are a clear and complete agenda to guide the efforts of any organisation, irrespective of its economic sector, to contribute to a sustainable world. ISO 26000 also states that, "the objective of sustainable development is to achieve sustainability for society as a whole and the planet".

The idea of achieving sustainability refers to a concept placed in the future, where there should be a dynamic balance between the planet and humanity as a whole. It refers to an image of how the world should be in the future, a vision that encompasses an even more important concept: human well-being. If we want to take a look at how the world should be in the future, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development has developed the document Vision 2050. It is a "call for a world in which more than 9 billion people can live well, within planetary boundaries by mid-century"2.

On the one hand, there is enough evidence that humanity is facing an environmental, social and economic crisis like never before and, on the other hand, there is also enough objectives, frameworks/standards, and tools to gear and change our unsustainable direction. It is up to us to take the first step in applying social responsibility as a management model to contribute to sustainable development and move forward to achieve a more sustainable world in the future. The path to sustainability is in our hands.

José Antonio David
Course Instructor, CSR & Sustainable Development
Universidad Católica de Córdoba, Argentina

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