News Banner

Vision 2050: When Business As Usual Will Be Sustainable

KathleenOBrien-webFor those of us in the sustainable building world, we are most familiar with The World Business Council on Sustainable Development WBCSD through its definition of sustainability in the Brundtland Commission Report (1993): "Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

Now the WBCSD has gifted the global community with a set of tools that expand on that vision. In 2008, the CEOs of 29 global companies from 14 industries led an 18-month consensus effort to lay out a pathway to a 2050 world in which the anticipated nine billion population of the world live well. The effort involved dialogues with more than 200 companies and other stakeholders in some 20 countries. The tool set includes the Vision 2050 Report, generic presentations for public outreach, a poster showing the 22 dimensions of the projects within the larger realms of people, economy, governance, energy and resources, and ecosystem,  and a 14-foot mural displaying the pathway in more detail.

Vision 2050's Executive Summary explicitly declares that Vision 2050 is not prescriptive, but meant to spur dialogue. However, I found the Vision 2050 Mural displayed at a recent event sponsored by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) looking very much  like a plan. It has dates by which certain conditions must be met in order to achieve the Vision of one-planet living. Like a true business plan, it also qualifies the Vision with risks that can be anticipated, and wild cards that can not.

PhotoVision2050Of course, the first thing I looked for on the mural was the building track. The organization  isn't perfect. When I noted that the end goal for the building track makes achieving "energy efficient appliances" (we have to wait for 2050 for this?) equally as difficult  as achieving net zero energy in the majority of new structures,  I reminded myself that the Vision was developed by corporations, some of which manufacture and distribute appliances. So from their perspective, the challenge might loom large. Not sure I agree. From my perspective this is an easy one, with great benefit — think plug loads.

In addition, the mural suffers from the age-old problem of slicing up the pie of sustainability. Everything overlaps. In addition to the building track there are separate energy, forest, mobility and material tracks, which obviously interface with infrastructure development, i.e. building. Even if imperfect,  it seems a good first step at offering businesses a concrete set of milestones, characterized by some attendees as a veritable "chutes and ladders" scenario complete with "must haves" (ladders up) as well as "wild cards" (chutes down).

The report itself provides an excellent description contrasting business-as-usual and the idealistic vision depicted on the mural and report narrative. Businesses have their work cut out for them. Stanford University's Bob Horn, the fellow who specializes in mind messes (a play on mind maps) and other visualization products, and produced the Vision 2050 mural, keynoted the BGI event. He described  the project's historic process, as well as progress toward "must haves" for this decade. According to Horn, who presented his workproduct with a neutrality I admired, progress is mixed, with the building and energy & power tracks faring pretty well. Not surprising given the energy invested over the last twenty decades on green building awareness, building standards, renewable production and more stringent energy codes. There are other areas, such as carbon neutrality where the observer has to look harder to detect any movement of the needle. Horn was careful to note that  wild cards (war and natural disaster for example) could continue to play havoc with our plans if we aren't prepared to deal with them effectively and sustainably.

Vision2050_2Gifford Pinchot III, founder of BGI, spoke as well.  Pinchot reported that, with the emergence of Vision 2050, the Institute has worked with its entire faculty to ensure the scenario(s) envisioned in the tool are integrated into course dialogue. I find this very exciting. I have several colleagues and former students who have completed BGI's program, the first MBA in the nation focused on sustainable business,  and I have nothing but praise for the thought leadership it encourages. I have even more respect however, for BGI's willingness to "try out" this tool, and to ask its faculty to "shake things up" a bit. It is modeling "being teachable" at the institutional level, not easy to do, but very necessary.

For those of us taking the larger view of sustainability, corporate progress toward the historic vision industry leaders have set down on paper  in Vision 2050 will be important to watch. Stay tuned.

Kathleen O'Brien, Editor of Building Capacity Blog and founder of O'Brien & Company, remains as a special consultant to the nationally recognized green building consultancy. She recently launched The Emerge Leadership Project and anticipates the Emerge: Leadership for a more sustainable society Workshop will include discussions of Vision 2050. The photo includes Gifford Pinchot III and John S. Adams, CFP, and leader of The Arbor Group, a team at UBS Financial Services.

Did you enjoy this article?  You might also like these Building Capacity Blog articles: 
Emerge: Leadership for a more sustainable society
Cool Factor: Youth Green Building Careers Symposia Inspires

Comments are closed.