Sustainability continues to be an evolving concept. An early conception of sustainability was a conservation matter. It was a policy issue pertaining to the consumption of natural resources within the parameters of what’s necessary to sustain ourselves comfortably without compromising the sustainability of future generations.
Over time, sustainability became not so much a concept as a cause – a value by which we would guide human behavior. In 1983, the United Nations commissioned a study that eventually led to a complex three-dimensional amalgamation of sustainability elements – environmental, economic, and social elements.
When it was simply a natural resources conservation matter, we were concerned with consumption management. That includes the amount of consumption (including waste) and types (e.g., renewable preferred over non-renewable). But eventually, we realized that our resources were depleted not just by consumption but also by destruction. That is how climate change, and human contribution to it, came to have a recognized role in sustainability.
Climate change has become perhaps the biggest threat to our sustainability and that of future generations. In 2021, the U.N. issued a report identifying as the significant, unaddressed threats to sustainability climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
The leading causes of climate change are artificial emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, predominantly from burning fossil fuels for energy. In a sense, climate change is another consequence of the wasteful consumption of resources that threatens sustainability.
The three pillars of sustainability are interconnected. The environmental impact of climate change threatens societal and economic imbalances with food shortage, water scarcity, flooding, diseases and pandemics, extreme heat, reduced crop yields, among others. Even with immediate efforts to minimize climate change, some effects are irreversible, thus breaching the principle of sustainability to protect the well-being of future generations.
Businesses have been slow to adopt serious sustainability measures while climate change deniability has thrived. But that is changing. Companies have come to realize that climate change is real and having adverse effects earlier than scientists predicted.
For a long time after climate change was scientifically forecast, profit motive remained the driving force behind corporate decision making. Perhaps they are feeling the immediate impact on profits. Or maybe they have finally adopted a realistic altruistic concern for sustainability. Whatever the case, we might be witnessing business leaders working in favor of sustainability policies.