Before we began the second term of our MSc, our tutor asked us to think about what sustainability meant to us. When we discussed it, I remember being struck by the variety of answers given by our group, all different but interconnected, with no answer being more or less important than another. I often think about this, and although my answer changes, by and large the essence of it remains the same. To me, sustainability is a sense of responsibility and duty to the environment that I live in. I do not mean this in a strict manner but a natural one. For example a parent has responsibility for its child, a tree naturally bears the responsibility to provide fruit and shelter, in the same way, in my opinion, it’s our responsibility to work in harmony with the environment.
I had placed all these thoughts at the back of my mind and became carried away with the busy term ahead. But these thoughts came rushing back to me at a recent business for environment summit in London, which I was lucky enough to scribe for. During this summit Vivek Tulpule, Chief Economist at Rio Tinto made a staggering comment. He claimed, “it is a fantasy to picture a world where growth and resources are decoupled.” At first I assumed his comment was facetious, and would be followed up by possible solutions, but none came. I sat there and observed how easy it was for him to decouple his responsibilities from the environment. There, in front of the leaders of the most sustainable and innovative businesses around the world, in front of academics, NGOs and students all in a discussion about unlocking resource productivity for sustainable growth, was a senior executive from one of the world’s largest mining companies, making excuses to continue with business as usual.
I wondered what sustainability might mean to Mr Tulpule, perhaps it was maintaining shareholder value. Even if this was the case, his comment contradicts this. If he thinks it is fantasy to picture a world where resources and growth are decoupled, then I wonder what he thinks will happen once resources are depleted. Will growth cease to exist? If so, the company that he works for will certainly collapse, meaning that the company has failed to meet its shareholder responsibility and is unsustainable.
Although there are many actors in our society who carelessly maintain our current inefficient system there are many others that are taking responsibility, and fighting for change. A member from the WWF summed this up beautifully in his question to Mr Tulpule. He asked what would have happened if NASA didn’t think it was possible to get to the moon, would we still have reached there. The moon for us is a more sustainable world, and we have to build a rocket ship to get there fast. We may all have different methods of getting there, depending on what sustainability means to us and we will undoubtedly face failures on our way, as NASA did, but if we never conceive it to be possible, we will never accomplish it. I intend to shoot for the moon.