by Terry Goodwin


More and more attention is being paid to the concept of sustainable development, yet it is a concept to which many business executives fail to relate.   To the practical business executive, the concept may appear so abstract as to be effectually incomprehensible. 

Executives will readily appreciate the need to protect their company’s financial resources, yet they regularly fail to recognise the importance of extending this concern to the world’s natural and human resources. 

A definition of sustainable development in business might be: to adopt business strategies that meet the organisation’s traditional needs at the present time while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future. 

Today, more than ever before, organizations need to acknowledge a changing business environment where an increasing involvement in human resource planning and management is an essential part of the overall strategic decision-making process, while still keeping a weather eye on their competitive advantage.  

Human resource planning is accordingly most effective where a firm builds its competitive advantage around its personnel.  This idealised situation, however, is threatened by the increasing trend towards globalisation of markets.  In the past it was possible to base decisions on competition faced from only local firms.  Nowadays the increasing integration of the world economy into a single market, the intensifying of competition, and the pressure of deregulation has obliged employers to find new ways of achieving cost-effectiveness, often at the expense of diminishing concern for the human and the natural resource sectors.

Successful corporate executives have always been those who have displayed  vision.  That vision, in the past, was primarily concerned with the economic goals of the organisation.  Nowadays it is essential that their vision also embraces the concerns of the global ecological crisis.  There are traditionally three ways of dealing with this crisis: the organisational policy may be simply to ignore the demand for ecologically beneficent change; it may merely pay lip-service to such demand; or it could embrace and support ecological change wholeheartedly. 

Edward de Bono has noted [1] "The furrier industry is going out of business. McDonalds has dropped the polystyrene containers that used to keep hamburgers warm. Recycled paper proudly proclaims itself . . . Smoking is banned on many flights and in many work places . . .. These newer values will initially be forced on to business, but will then be embraced by business as part of conventional wisdom."  

But still there remains a reactionary guard who stoutly defend old beliefs and outmoded principles.  And yet, in slightly tongue-in-cheek justification of that resistance one has to ask whether sustainability is possible; whether, in fact, natural resources (if not human) have gone beyond redemption.  We may, indeed, already have passed the point of no return . . . the point where our planetary resources will ever again be able to support the population – particularly at the rate at which the population has increased during the past five decades.  It may now be time for the entire world to have its energies devoted to replacing and restoring the deterioration in resources rather than simply try to maintain them at their present level . . . a forlorn task if ever there was one.


horizontal rule

[1] De Bono, Sur/Petition: Creating Value Monopolies When Everyone Else Is Merely Competing.  Harper Collins 1993.