Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, talks about the importance of sustainability management.
Managing the planet is beyond our current technical, organizational, financial and political capacity. We are not yet able to sustainably produce the food, energy, water, air and biological necessities required to sustain both human life and our planet. The goal of the field of sustainability management is to develop these capacities. To do this we need to invest resources in:
- Earth observation- Earth, atmospheric, ocean and ecosystem science. We need a better understanding of the impact of our productive technologies on the planet.
- Technology- We need to learn how to make and use renewable energy, food, air and water.
- Organizational capacity- We need people with the skills to understand and overcome the obstacles to sustainability. This will require enhanced scientific literacy and rules of the game which reward and do not punish long-term thinking.
- Public policy- Government must develop a regulatory structure that promotes sustainability technology and rules of the game that punish organizations that plunder the planet.
I am optimistic that these things can be accomplished not simply because of the urgency of the issue, but because of the cost factors that have begun to drive sustainability in many organizations. Companies like Wal-Mart started to require that their suppliers demonstrate adherence to sustainability principles as a way to control price without sacrificing quality. The green these companies are focused on is the one on our currency, not in the natural world. While we have not yet figured out how to manage our organizations, cities and planet sustainably — we have begun to try.
Steven Cohen is Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and professor in the practice of public affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He is also Director of the Master’s Program in Sustainability Management at Columbia’s School of Continuing Education.
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