Undoubtedly, the battle between environmentalism and industrial growth is becoming the most important issue in global economics. As the world’s population explodes, it causes a paradoxical social and economic condition highlighting a greater need for people to have access to consumer products, fuels, and employment. It also brings to light the argument that unleashed business growth has the potential to cause irreparable harm to the environment. These ideas are pan-demographic, which means they are found in wealthy, disadvantaged, urban, and rural areas alike.
This divide is highly ideologically and politically driven. As the founder of AlphaBeta Strategy & Economics, Andrew Charlton describes, conquering this divide is the only way facets of business sustainability will be mutually beneficial to all people. As an economic adviser to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Dr. Charlton had the opportunity to analyse world economic issues from a multitude of vantage points. He was witness to the extremes in the environmentalist and industrial camps that now find themselves at unbelievable odds.
The first element of sustainability that Dr. Charlton wants people to realise, is the changing nature of global population densities. Within a few decades, it is certain that almost all increases in population in the world will happen in urban areas. Higher concentrations of urban people will cause a huge demand for safe and innovative industrial methods. The problem with an ever-increasing urban population is a simultaneous increase in an attitude toward extreme environmentalism. Populations will demand more goods and conveniences, but will become less likely to support the choices of large businesses to meet those demands. Again, the result is a conflict between the two camps. Modern people perceive business growth as a threat to the planet, and businesses see environment-minded consumers as a threat to sustainability.
So, what is the answer to bridging the divide? According to Andrew Charlton in his Quarterly Essay 44, the future of sustainability lies in achieving the goal of human economic progress supporting the integrity of the natural world. While the specifics regarding individual industries successfully melding with environmentalist demands are in their infancy, there is one immediate thing businesses can do right now. This is, creating the opportunity for society in general to begin perceiving them as allies instead of idealogical enemies.
Global business networks are forming to channel funds into sustainability research. The individual member companies of these networks agree to pledge a minute percentage of their annual GDP to work that targets climate change, food production, clean energy, and fair trade expansion. Though the contributions are very small, they eventually equate to billions of dollars.
Like the contention Dr. Charlton witnessed during his work in government, there must one side to take a positive and transformative first step toward true sustainability. Since economics and growth are at the core of the divide, the business sector is smart in making the first move. However, it is now up to a passionate modern society to recognise and respond to that move as an indication of the desire for a totally sustainable and profitable future.