Current context - People's values

The One World vision is the ultimate stage of a conceptual evolution that started decades ago. This evolution produced several paradigm shifts that combine how we comprehend our world, and, as a result, how we try to deal with it.

Through the 70s and 80s, a technical understanding of impacts like acidification, eutrophication or stratospheric ozone loss prompted command and control approaches at the local and multilateral level, in the form of substance bans and compliance controls.

In its 1987 report - Our Common Future- the World Commission on Environment and Developmentproclaimed the interdependency of human development and environmental progress, captured in the notion of sustainable development, and nurtured the elaboration of the 1992 Rio Summit’s Agenda 21. It encouraged a system and life-cycle understanding of waste, carbon dioxide and other emissions and of overconsumption of water, fuels and other non-renewable resources. Environmental progress could be achieved, despite society’s development and economic growth, through strategies of system redesign for eco-efficiency. Economic growth could decouple from its negative environmental impacts thanks to business foresight, voluntary initiatives and covenants. Innovation and new behaviors would spread through well-functioning and free markets with only light government interference.

This new worldview was summed up in the “three pillars: ecology-society-economy” scheme. Because of its complexity, it demands performance indicators that monitor behavior change and progress by businesses and other actors. Thus, Corporate Social Responsibility and public-private partnerships became the preferred modes of business action, shaped in dialogues with stakeholders and monitored through schemes like the Global Reporting Initiative, the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Dow Jones Sustainability and other governance and accountability indexes.

This ladder of expanding worldviews is embedded in the core of the One World vision. One World weaves together quality of life, equity and enhancement of our human and natural capitals. It relies on interdependent, purposeful, innovative individuals to achieve these ideals through the efficiency of markets. Sustainable development, instead of being an “end-of-pipe” or “add-on”, becomes an integral part of the core business strategy. 

The One World vision is making its way into consumer values. A number of surveys[1] show that concerns about social and environmental issues are on most people’s minds, in all countries. They express a willingness to take action and select products and suppliers based on their alignment with corporate responsibility principles. They also want products and services that perform and give good value while being rated as more sustainable. Nonetheless, only about 1 in 5 people go all the way to adjust lifestyle, behavior and purchasing decisions. Most feel they cannot evaluate the sustainability merits on their own or they lack the purchasing power to afford a premium for environmental quality. Support from governments to provide practical rules and education is essential to turn this willingness into trust in environmental claims and action.  

While numerous think tanks and international summits have articulated the ideas around sustainability and green growth, our political systems have difficulty coping with such a holistic, high-level and constantly-evolving notion. They are set to maintain a harmonious society where every individual is able to satisfy its own needs and desires without harming the human rights of others. Rooted in the 19th century, this principle is based on an abundance of resources and confidence in education, science and technology to break through limits of scarcity. It relies on commerce and contracts to create and distribute wealth and thus ensure social peace.

Citizens delegate their power through the election of representatives who are expected to satisfy the interests of their electors through action, legislation and compliance. This vote is both a sanction of the performance of outgoing representatives and a support of the action plans of candidate representatives. This political system is naturally committed to rather personal, local and immediate interests and concerns. Endangered species and unborn generations do not vote. Even though inaction, now, may increase the probability of remote, irreversible future damage, it is practically impossible to allocate, today, the level of resources that would prevent an uncertain crisis, tomorrow. This requires a sufficient number of concerned citizens to elect representatives committed to such danger prevention and mitigation plans. The climate negotiations show, so far, that national delegates need to operate within the mandate of their domestic legislators and stick to local and near-present strategies rather than accept binding global, long-term emission ceilings based on predictive science.

Despite a rapid evolution of the concepts and ideal of sustainable development, progress on the ground, for real people and their environment, remains slow and difficult.


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