The UN Sustainable Development Goals
As I reflect back over my teaching during the five years that I have been in Israel, I am very mindful of the increasing role that ideas of "sustainability" have in my work. Of course, "sustainability" is the consequence of a variety of approaches which we often refer to by the label of "sustainability." One might also refer to this as how we will go about living within our planetary budget in the foreseeable future.
I am aware of how more and more I bring these ideas into my work at various institutions and in different capacities especially in the classroom. In a very mundane way, it is not different than what we in the MBA curriculum all did a decade or two ago in bringing ideas of "quality" into our work. Deming and his work was the trend and no business school curriculum would be doing its job without reference to this body of knowledge. Along with Deming was the idea of teams and teamwork and similarly, we would have been remiss in not teaching our students these new approaches. Collaboration is another approach that has become part of the fabric of our efforts.
As we stand now several years beyond the Paris Climate Accord, one thing is unfortunately very clear. This is that our world is changing in hugely significant ways. Sooner or later, a larger number of our species will become aware that our survival as a species may be at stake. At the least, we are leaving what some writers call the Holocene Era, a twelve thousand year long period which was a time when the Earth's climate and resources were ideal in meeting our needs, to the Anthropocene Era which is the result of human activity and will be a far more challenging time. In the meantime, we have the duty and moral responsibility to educate and train our students to be be prepared to live in, manage, consult to and be part of the leadership in this new world. They need to be good citizens in this world.
Assuming that we take action before it is too late, we will have a huge role in shaping our response and the kind of world and communities we all will live in, the way we make our living, and the types of organizations in which we will add value. In turn, we will need to have created an economy that accommodates all of this along with our changed relationship to the natural capital of our planet (the ability of our planet to provide resources, absorb waste, eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere and produce food.)
The question is what should we be teaching. Clearly, we should be open to questioning some of the knowledge and approaches of the past. This includes the nature of organizations, their goals, the ways they do business and their relationship to economic principles that have likely outgrown their usefulness. We should be laying the groundwork for the future rather than continually revisiting the past.
We remain human beings and, thus, learning about our individual psychology and psychology in groups remains relevant though, perhaps, new things will need to be stressed as the requirements of our new, emerging world become more apparent.
Beyond this, the types of organizations and businesses will change as we deal with changes in the Anthropocene Era. The goals and values of these enterprises will be different. Their legal forms will be different to accommodate triple bottom line (economic, environmental, social) goals. Development will take precedence over growth; circular businesses and a circular economy will require changed approaches to production and consumption. Conservation will play a driving role. How we work together will likely change. We will be seeing the world in terms of ecosystems and networks and in other ways not yet imagined. Our fields of study in part will be different. For example, the field of Biomimicy will likely be far more important as we learn the value of replicating the organic processes of nature in our communities, enterprises and products.
It can be a very exciting though challenging time for those who choose to commit to playing a role in helping our global and local societies develop appropriately. For those who make this choice, opportunities for work may be abundant.
I like to think that in terms of Israel, the U.S., UK and other countries meeting this current challenge will enable them to fulfill their national destiny. All members of the United Nations Community can pursue the Sustainable Development Goals as a global destiny.
I believe we all will be remiss as educators and human beings if we do not acquaint young people with the challenges awaiting them. Ironically, it is many of the younger generation who are educating older people about these challenges. We have much to learn from each other.
I appreciate that this will not be easy as we all grapple with reactions of denial, resistance and anxiety. We have the responsibility to work with our students in developing organizational and societal solutions for the future and developing the skills that will be needed. There are many important conversations that can take place in an educational context. Our students hopefully will play an important role in the momentous societal and organizational changes of the future. They are called upon even now to help their respective societies embark upon these changes. I believe our responsibility is to help put in place the appropriate foundation to support them.