Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, suggests seven key concepts for transitioning from the illusion of "endless growth" to a realistic goal of "thriving in balance" for humanity and the human habitat:
1. Change the goal -- from GDP to Doughnut.
2. See the big picture -- from self-contained market to embedded economy.
3. Nurture human nature -- from rational economic man to social adaptable humans.
4. Get savvy with systems -- from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity.
5. Design to distribute -- from 'growth will even it up again' to distributive design.
6. Create to regenerate -- from 'growth will clean it up again' to regenerative by design.
7. Be agnostic about growth -- from growth addicted to growth agnostic.
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Over a year in, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) show no sign of losing momentum. Ruth Mhlanga reflects on how businesses can support the SDGs to create a world free from poverty without breaking the planet.
The SDGs are ambitious, but in a world where 8 men have the same wealth as the poorest half of the world, nothing less would suffice. It is a good thing then, that many in the private sector have stepped up and embraced the goals. But despite some refreshing exceptions, private sector engagement has, to date, overwhelmingly focused on potential business opportunities, without an equivalent focus on responsible conduct and impact. If this
approach continues, we run the risk of not meeting the SDGs and, even worse, business conduct may actively undermine their attainment.
Having business on side in this ambitious vision is a great starting point, but what are some of the ways business can engage better with the SDGs in practice?
The pressure to create short-term value is a key obstacle to overcome
Beginning with Impact
Nobody likes to talk about what they don't do well, but this is the depth of character required for the SDGs. It's almost too obvious to state, but good business engagement with the SDGs is predicated on responsible business conduct, including increased efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It should go without saying that harm caused in one area of a company cannot be offset by a social project elsewhere. Businesses can (knowingly or not) deplete natural
resources, sustain practices that keep women marginalised, or promote weaker regulation that would otherwise protect the most vulnerable people. Mapping and understanding these dynamics (PDF, 5.62 MB) is crucial and knowing your overall impact has to be a key starting point.
Avoid Cherry Picking
Companies should avoid cherry picking goals which maximise their profits while avoiding those which have a negative impact. Take for instance, an energy company choosing to focus on Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, but not Goal 13, Climate Action. This could result in the re-purposing of dirty energy under the guise of energy access and the undermining of both goals.
To date, much of the business conversation has focused on where business can aid the goals whilst increasing profits. But win-win scenarios alone will not get us where we need to be. For example, in addressing problems like economic inequality, positive actions to increase prices paid to farmers, workers' wages and due taxes paid, soon impact on the financial bottom line of a company. However, to meet the SDGs there will need to be a shift in approach to costs being minimised no matter what even if they contribute to public goods.
Similarly, tackling the challenge of climate change properly could mean the end of some companies in their current form altogether.
Changing Business Models
The SDGs present a more radical agenda than most business leaders realize because they require new ideas for how the global economy can work for everyone - not only the privileged few. Not only should companies engaging with the SDGs look at their entire footprint on the SDGs, they should also be ready to work towards a more human economy, where businesses show as much concern for workers, communities and the planet as they do for their shareholders and board
members. The omnipresent pressure to create short-term value for shareholders is a key obstacle for companies to overcome in order to do more good . A growing number of initiatives are experimenting with alternative business models, such as social enterprises, employee-owned companies or producer-owned cooperatives. Their success is challenging the status quo in the purpose and governance structures of corporations, and could form founding blocks of a more human economy.
Sustainability leaders will support government efforts to govern for the common good
What about regulation?
Perhaps even less popular than talking about negative impacts is calling for increased governmental regulation. However, in this new SDG era, where business has underwritten the importance of a sustainable future for people and the planet, the idea that regulation for the public good is anti-business seems increasingly anachronistic. It flows then, that responsible business should actively support governance in pursuit of the SDGs. Sustainability leaders will be those who support government efforts to govern for the common good, and are willing to stand up to peers who undermine
these collective efforts.
A healthy planet, where no-one is left behind
For companies claiming to contribute to the SDGs, the bar is set high - but we have no other choice. The gap to bridge is large and the time is short. For business to truly contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, a fundamental rethink is required of the role of business in society.
Instead of taking a narrow, short-term and profit-focused approach in much of the current discourse, companies should base their engagement on their own impacts, align their core business strategies with the SDGs and work with others towards a system-level change and a more human economy. Luckily, a growing amount of business leaders are realizing this, but it is high time for the rest of the private sector to follow and translate this into real and tangible action.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruth Mhlanga is a Private Sector Policy Advisor for Oxfam Great Britain, currently working on climate change and the private sector. The work includes looking at how the private sector engages with climate change, and how Oxfam can influence and maximise the contribution that business makes toward reducing the impact of climate change. Previously worked as Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.
The Community and Ascetic Dimensions of Christian Ecological Commitment
Jaime Tatay Nieto, SJ
Originally published in
EcoJesuit, 31 January 2017 under a Creative Commons License
Many continue to examine the motivating factors behind the promulgation of Laudato si’ (LS), the first “ecological” encyclical in the history of Church social teaching. The subject of LS goes far beyond the Catholic community and concerns every person who believes in a God who can act out of love, intervenes in history and delivers the gift of creation. And yet the question remains: should religious people get involved in a discussion about the environment, apparently so technical, and far-removed from faith?
Scientists, economists, politicians and military personnel are becoming increasingly interested in issues related to the challenge of sustainability. Pollution, disruption of climate patterns, destruction of the ozone layer, soil degradation, access to and quality of water, loss of biodiversity, depletion of renewable and non-renewable resources, and the recovery of nitrogen and phosphorus cycles – to name but a few of the planetary problems identified by the scientific community – are issues that have mobilised concerned societal actors.
Returning to the question with which we began: what sense does it have for religions in general and the Catholic Church in particular to enter this discussion? What motivates their interest? What legitimizes their intervention? What is their contribution?
The community dimension
The ecclesial or community dimension of the Christian experience is one of the main contributions that the Church can make to the discussion on sustainability. Along with proposals that seek to empower the consumer, educate the citizen and transform the political establishment through individual voting behaviour, the Church insists that we cannot ignore the community dimension when articulating operational responses to contemporary challenges. Pope Francis prioritizes the community as a unit of analysis and social action. There are several reasons why he chose this community approach rather than more individualistic proposals that characterize most environmental approaches.
Firstly, LS points out that “self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today.” (LS 219) The modern individual is overwhelmed by the complexity and number of decisions that must be made, and however well-informed and well-intentioned, there is a need to support oneself and sustain this commitment through community networks. Furthermore, there is a spiritual dimension: a community is a stimulus and a source of motivation because it is “called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion.” (LS 89)
Secondly, this cosmic communion consisting of “the sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied” (LS 221) is not the exclusive preserve of mystics. It is in fact an invitation and task for all as members of a community that goes beyond the local realm, present time and human species. To experience a “universal fraternity” (LS 228) cultivates a spiritual attitude: “an integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered.” (LS 225)
Thirdly, the centrality of the community dimension for sustainability also resonates with a central tradition in the history of Catholic social thought: the common good. This is an economic and socio-political vision of a communitarian character as opposed to the individualist tradition of political liberalism. Considering the misrule and accelerated degradation of the “global commons” (LS 174), the notion of the common good is receiving increased interest both inside and outside the Church.
For instance, when Pope Francis affirms that “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all” (LS 23), he is pointing out that we cannot limit ourselves to a merely physical or economic analysis of the reality we call climate. Instead there is a need to understand it as a common good in respect of which “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment.” (LS 156) Spirituality acquires great relevance in relation to the perception and promotion of the common good: “Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good.” (LS 225)
The ascetic dimension
Alongside the community dimension, asceticism also stands out as a typically religious contribution to the subject of sustainability. Ascetic practices such as fasting, abstinence and almsgiving, undertaken with the aim of purifying one’s relationship with God and with others, offer a significant element that other actors in our cultural context are not able to propose. These practices cultivate virtues of sobriety, detachment, and simplicity of life which articulate an integrated spiritual experience, and are relevant to an over-exploited planet, possessing finite resources and a high socio-economic inequality.
Citing Benedict XVI, Pope Francis affirms that “we have a sort of ‘super-development’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the on-going situations of dehumanizing deprivation.” (LS 109) Not only does the consumerist drive in the richest societies contrast with the persistent poverty amongst the rest of humanity, it is also the main cultural vector of environmental degradation.
Faced with this situation, the Church has spiritual resources that resonate deeply with a long tradition that values simplicity of life and solidarity. This tradition, which has monastic roots and is conveyed during Lent and penitential ascetic practices, has a great potential to catalyse community transformations and for re-interpretation along ecological lines.
Thus, socio-political transformation and community action can go hand in hand with a spirituality of asceticism and voluntary simplicity. The interweaving of spiritual and ecological benefits of asceticism is highlighted by Pope Francis’ proposal for Saint Francis of Assisi as an anthropological model for integral ecology. “The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” (LS 11)
With LS, Pope Francis has addressed a relatively new area for Catholic social thought – the subject of sustainability. In so doing, he has allowed a fruitful exchange to take place between civil society, the scientific community and the business world. This has been an ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in which the voice of religious traditions is being heard with surprising interest.
In this sense, LS is one of the greatest exercises in public theology of the last decades: it has questioned the political class, dialogued with the academy, and restored interest in the ecclesial institution. And at the same time, LS has updated Catholic Social Teaching by including in its agenda the greatest concern of our time: the call to care for our common home.
This is a translated and edited version of an article Experiencia religiosa y Laudato si’ by Jaime Tatay Nieto, SJ which appeared in the journal Corintios XIII, Revista de teología y pastoral de la caridad, Julio-Septiembre 2016, n.º 159.
China's Tian Shan Mountains Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by the European Space Agency (ESA)
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) has been working for more than a decade to open access to Earth observation data and information, and increase awareness around their socioeconomic value. As GEO moves into the second decade four new global partners are announced to help support GEO’s vision.
The GEO community has been building a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) that links Earth observation resources worldwide across multiple Societal Benefit Areas (SBAs). These SBAs range from Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sustainability, Disaster Resilience, Energy and Mineral Resources Management, Food Security, Infrastructure and Transportation Management to Public Health Surveillance, Sustainable Urban Development and Water Resources Management. The SBAs serve as lenses through which the Member governments and Participating Organizations (POs) that constitute GEO may focus their contributions to GEOSS, with a goal to make the open EO data resources available for informed decision-making.
The four organizations include Conservation International (CI), Earthmind, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Each organization has now joined GEO as a Participating Organization, taking the total number to 110 working internationally to advocate, engage and deliver on open EO data.
“CI empowers societies across the globe to sustainably care for nature through science and partnerships. We are excited to join the GEO community, which has long recognized the power of collaboration in leveraging earth observation to benefit humanity.” Said Daniel Juhn, Senior Director, Integrated Assessment and Planning Program at Conservation International. “Though we face obstacles to achieve the SDGs, we are at a critical juncture where the science of valuing ecosystems, and understanding the full services nature provides to people expands our knowledge and options. We hope this partnership exemplifies bringing together that science, the right policies, necessary collaboration, and advanced technologies to generate the solutions we need to tackle global sustainability challenges.”
“Earthmind supports positive efforts by private, public and non-profit stakeholders to conserve and responsibly manage nature. As one of our main programmes is to recognise conservation in the areas where people live and work, we are most honoured and indeed excited to join the GEO community. In so doing, we hope to further encourage voluntary efforts to observe how we managing our planet in order to take better care for it.” said Francis Vorhies, Founder and Executive Director of Earthmind.
“GEO, its Members and the broad new set of tools provided by geodata constitute a fantastic step forward in the quest to help farmers from all corners of the world improve their yields and Governments to improve their policies to further stimulate agriculture in their respective countries. This is why GODAN is very glad to become part of GEO and to count the GEO partnership among the GODAN network. We believe that this collaboration will be most fruitful for all parties involved” said André Laperrière, Executive Director of the GODAN Secretariat.
"UNICEF has learned through experience that problems that go unmeasured often go unsolved,” said Toby Wicks, Data Strategist at UNICEF. “We will work with the GEO community to link the needs of the world's most vulnerable populations to a rapidly expanding set of data informed solutions, including GEOSS. This partnership signals an effort to build a world in which a near real-time understanding of risks and global challenges, particularly water resources management and disaster resilience, allows us to work harder and faster, for children."
The key engagement priorities for GEO in the coming years involve using open Earth observations to respond to a number of global policy issues. The priorities are tied to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These new partnerships will complement existing ones and also help deliver in line with the GEO engagement priorities.
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO)
GEO is a partnership of governments and organizations creating a future wherein decisions and actions for the benefit of humankind are informed by coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations. GEO Member governments include 104 nations and the European Commission, and 110 Participating Organizations comprised of international bodies making use of or with a mandate in Earth observations. GEO’s primary focus is to develop a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to enhance the ability of end-users to discover and access Earth observation data and convert it to useable and useful information. GEO is headquartered in Switzerland.
For English-language media enquiries, please contact:
Katherine Anderson – Communications Manager, Group on Earth Observations
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be the guiding framework for international development until 2030 and are intended to provide a reference for setting national policy priorities.
This unique, searchable database provides a snapshot of what those national priorities are. Users can compare existing national targets with the ambition of the SDGs. We intend this to be a living document, supplemented and kept up to date by crowdsourcing, and we encourage others to send us new information on national goals to update the tracker.
Over the last two centuries, the impact of the Human System has grown dramatically, becoming strongly dominant within the Earth System in many different ways. Consumption, inequality, and population have increased extremely fast, especially since about 1950, threatening to overwhelm the many critical functions and ecosystems of the Earth System. Changes in the Earth System, in turn, have important feedback effects on the Human System, with costly and potentially serious consequences. However, current models do not incorporate these critical feedbacks. We argue that in order to understand the dynamics of either system, Earth System Models must be coupled with Human System Models through bidirectional couplings representing the positive, negative, and delayed feedbacks that exist in the real systems. In particular, key Human System variables, such as demographics, inequality, economic growth, and migration, are not coupled with the Earth System but are instead driven by exogenous estimates, such as UN population projections. This makes current models likely to miss important feedbacks in the real Earth-Human system, especially those that may result in unexpected or counterintuitive outcomes, and thus requiring different policy interventions from current models. The importance and imminence of sustainability challenges, the dominant role of the Human System in the Earth System, and the essential roles the Earth System plays for the Human System, all call for collaboration of natural scientists, social scientists, and engineers in multidisciplinary research and modeling to develop coupled Earth-Human system models for devising effective science-based policies and measures to benefit current and future generations.
"C-ROADS is an award-winning computer simulation that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of policy scenarios to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It allows for the rapid summation of national greenhouse gas reduction pledges in order to show the long-term impact on our climate." For more information, click
9. Fostering Sustainability in the International Community
Long Live Mother Earth!
This article was originally published in
Panay News, 22 April 2017 REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
I cannot let Earth Day, April 22, pass without a tribute to Mother Earth, as precious as your own mother—to hold dear and lovingly respect. Earth Day was founded in 1970, and every year thereafter, there have been worldwide celebrations. For many, however, the commemoration activities have amounted to short-lived concern for the environment. After a week of being Earth-friendly, it’s back to the madding crowd and to a lifestyle characterized by a glut of Styrofoam and plastics and other non-biodegradables. (I hope I hear you say NO because you are an environmental activist or on your way to being one. Cheers!)
In the ten years or so of sporadic writing, I have included twice in my columns The Earth’s Ten Commandments in honor of Earth Day and to oblige a request from a reader for the complete list. Here are the ten again. Am I being repetitive, nagging, badgering? Like what we always do when we feel badgered, we skip. But please, for the sake of Mother Earth, don’t skip. Read, imbibe, and translate into action:
I. You shall love and honor the earth for it blesses your life and governs your survival.
II. You shall keep each day sacred to the earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.
III. You shall not hold yourself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.
IV. You shall give thanks for your food to the creatures and the planets that nourish you.
V. You shall limit your offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the earth.
VI. You shall not kill or waste earth’s riches upon weapons of war.
VII. You shall not pursue profit at the earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.
VIII. You shall not hide from yourself or others the consequences of your actions upon the earth.
IX. You shall not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the earth.
X. You shall consume material goods in moderation so all may share earth’s bounty.
In a relative’s house is a beautifully framed Ten Commandments of Bible fame. I suggested framing and hanging, too, The Earth’s Ten Commandments. Both are just as sacred—crossing the boundaries of race, creed, color, and nationality.
Of the above, I consider Commandment No. 5 of overriding importance. I always contend that if we cannot check population growth, much of our environmental activism would be to no avail. Let me quote from a previous column: “The human impact on the environment cannot be overemphasized. Think of soil erosion and landslides caused by a growing number of people who must eke out a living by felling trees, made worse by the criminal deforestation of big business. We live on fragile ecosystems that cry out halt to population explosion.” Natural resources dwindle with the burgeoning population.
According to Popcom, the neat shortcut for the Commission on Population, the Philippine population will double in 35 years. That means roughly 170 million Filipinos. The result: Poverty will become so overwhelming that society will be fraught with crimes induced by an empty stomach. Thus, slowing down population growth is “a given which transcends political considerations,” says Popcom. Massive poverty renders outdated and irrelevant the biblical decree to go forth and multiply.
Earth Day was founded for every human being to realize the imperative to maintain the health of Mother Earth right now more than ever. Time is of the essence. Her health is our health. Read, imbibe, and translate into action The Earth’s Ten Commandments before we can shout with high hopes and praises: Long live Mother Earth!
Tears of Mother Earth, Tim Donna, 21 April 2017
This is a song about our beautiful planet and the need to treat it with love, honor and respect.