You can’t eat money!

You can’t eat money!

Alain E. Roch

Alain E. Roch, MBA

President and CEO

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development published the Brundtland report entitled “Our Common Future.” The report presented the results of a planet-wide consultation that sought to propose a global program for change using sustainable development, or “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Thirty years later, we find it legitimate to question whether or not we have taken it into account.

The report clearly identified the most glaring environmental problems of the 1980s: uncontrolled population growth, excessive deforestation, tropical forest destruction, extinction of living species, increase in greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, acid rainfalls, stratospheric ozone layer degradation, etc. It also focused on socio-economic factors and more specifically on the perverse effects of material economic growth and resource overconsumption.

For sustainable development, the report established a series of strategic imperatives including population control, meeting essential human needs, conserving and enhancing the resource base, taking into account the environment in the development of new techniques and merging environment and economics in decision-making.

It then made suggestions for global solutions that included, for instance, reducing industrialized countries’ energy consumption and fostering renewable energy development, fostering massive reforestation in countries affected by desertification, imposing tax and land reforms to reduce pressures on ecosystems and adopting an international convention for the protection of species.

To fund and carry out this economic shift, the report proposed a reform for international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF that had to give more weight to social and environmental imperatives and relieve poorer countries’ debt. The report also recommended that military expenses be reoriented towards fighting poverty and inequality and called on large businesses to begin manufacturing and consuming more responsibly.

This report also directed government, civil society and company actions. Over the years, organic farming, environmental certification, companies’ social responsibility, renewable energy production, socially responsible investing, a green economy, life-cycle analysis and a greener manufacturing process were developed.

30 years later…

Thanks to the Brundtland report, the world gained a more profound understanding of the interconnected challenges we all face and how sustainable development can offer people a better opportunity for choosing their future.

However, natural resource overconsumption and environment degradation persist at a rapid pace, climate change threatens vulnerable populations and ecosystems more than ever, the planet’s support capacity is about to be exceeded and food insecurity still progresses.

What can we do to make a difference?

Prof. Jacques Prescott, in his article “Développement durable: avons-nous progressé depuis la publication du rapport Brundtland?”, mentions the four-point environmentally-friendly strategy proposed by Michel Jurdant as of 1984 in his book Le défi écologiste: educate citizens, demystify quantitative progress, suggest alternative life-styles and encourage democratic public debate. Prof. Prescott added that we should tirelessly educate the young and not-so-young on sustainable development principles, further regulate and reduce the power of banks and financial circles, rely on subsidiarity, promote accountability for elected officials and leaders, encourage independent news and especially, learn to recognize the influence of special interest groups.

To guide us in our efforts, Prof. Prescott very wisely reminds us of the Native American saying: “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money.”