The challenges of sustainability - Business Works
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The challenges of sustainability

Tony Favro, author Hard Constants The concept of sustainability or sustainable development involves getting people to change their behaviour, use fewer resources, adjust their consumption patterns, alter their daily routines and think long-term. In his book, Hard Constants, Tony Farro uses the American city as an example of the challenges that face business and society. Despite America's reputation regarding climate change and consumption, the concepts can be compared, to a greater or lesser extent, to other 'western' societies.

It may sound simple - after all, incentives can get people to walk more and use less electricity ó yet the mostly unconscious basis for Americansí sense of who they are, how they experience the world and how they think they ought to live, makes sustainability an elusive proposition in the United States.

The stakes are high. America is the worldís largest resource consumer and recent literature has established a clear link between adopting a sustainable development trajectory and purposefully addressing resource dependency and depletion, critical national budget challenges and climate change. Itís not unreasonable to claim that Americaís leadership on sustainability is central to the continued prosperity of essential global systems.

Recent literature also has begun to move beyond the economic and environmental arguments for sustainability and to explore the importance of political, social and cultural factors which influence sustainable development. In almost all cases, such factors are studied in terms of national policymaking styles or particular cultures or private-public partnerships or citizens as actors, advocates and agitators. The literature discusses how these factors shape various political and economic models.

Regardless of whether our models are generated by national culture, the marketplace, or empowered citizens, there is a deeper philosophy behind them. Hard Constants explains the philosophical underpinnings of Americansí thoughts and actions as they relate to sustainable development.

Racism, competition and the passionate fulfillment of individual rights are among the 'hard constants' that structure Americansí experience of the world and their hopes and aspirations within it. Sounds dense? Itís not. The book provides an introduction to the forces underlying deliberate daily behavior in an understandable and digestible depth. We see how these forces influence job seeking, civic leadership, economic development programs, the mass media and, especially, the practice of urban planning and architectural design. We see how these deep forces are codified in legislation and custom.

Why do Americans plan their cities, their lives, their futures? They have no choice; itís what defines Americans as modern. Yet, if a plan leaves something out, the problem will be falsely posed. And the hard constants ó the unconscious basis of Americansí sense of what is realóalmost assure that much will not be said. Capitalism, for example, so dominates thought processes that Americans canít think of sustainability or anything else, except in terms of markets. But itís not capitalism alone. Science does an excellent job of reducing existence to matter (which becomes commodities) and modern American common sense has virtually no use for universal values (which helps maintain a healthy stock of individual consumers). Racism, for its part, keeps Americans racing against one another to the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy as well as distancing themselves from each other spatially, as the chasm between cities and suburbs attests. The point is, even when Americans exchange one point of view in favor of another, they still think along the same lines.

The term 'hard constants' does not imply stasis or impassibility, but indicates the general character of an American culture which is rooted in a repertoire of highly-evolved, inherited, and shared beliefs and values, while remaining capable of enormous flexibility and variety.

The hard constants that propel American life are vigorous, adaptable, widely understood, and popular. Such familiarity augers well for their retention. Virtually nothing in the character of 21st century American life which could only or best be developed with sustainability is obvious.

Curiously enough, we may have evidence of the truth of something we canít really understand, and that may be the case for sustainability. The book locates the future prospects for sustainability in an acknowledgement of universal values, in participatory democracy and in human-scale design.

Values - the standards we set for ourselves and others - are at the heart of sustainability. Intersubjective values can be measured, negotiated and applied using newly-developed quality of life indicators, opening the possibility of more universal and intercultural accountability. The social media and other emerging power-checking mechanisms promise to invigorate received ideals of democratic freedom, equality and justice. Design, at the rediscovered human scale, can restrain the ego of designers, developers and marketers, tap into collective memory and guide users along more sustainable pathways.

If you would like to find out more, you can get your free e-book copy here

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