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September 20, 2011
Sustainability Issues Persist but Urgency to Address them Declines
    by Robert Kropp

A survey of sustainability experts finds that while issues such as energy, climate change, and water scarcity remain critical, a sense of urgency in dealing with them is declining.

Sustainability experts from 64 countries report decreased urgency in addressing such key issues as energy, climate change, and water scarcity. But the development can hardly be seen as cause for celebration; anyone with even a cursory understanding of the issues realizes that problems associated with such issues are increasing on a global scale.

In fact, the most recent in a surv ey of 512 sustainability experts, published annually by SustainAbility and GlobeScan, attributes the decreased urgency entirely to negative factors.

The top five issues in terms of urgency are climate change, water scarcity, food security, poverty, and biodiversity loss. Yet, in every case, a sense of urgency in addressing the issues has decreased over the past two years. "Reasons for the decline in urgency," the survey states, "May include continued economic malaise, frustration with the lack of political will to enact effective policy changes, acceptance that these issues (are) a permanent part of our social and political economy, and (that) the diversity and complexity of global issues is taking the focus off the top issues."

Across the board, experts from government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), institutions, corporations, and the media ranked energy as the most urgent challenge. Corporations considered water scarcity as a more urgent challenge than did other experts, while NGOs considered awareness to be of considerable importance.

The experts also report that not one industry sector is effectively managing the transition to sustainable development. Exacerbating the concern of experts is the fact the worst performers—Mining and Oil & Gas—happen to be among the highest emitters of the sectors. Forest Products, Information Technology, and Life Sciences/Biotechnology were ranked as the highest performing sectors, although in each case fewer than 30% of respondents ranked their performance as good.

In a blog post, Kyle Whitaker of SustainAbility wrote, "The situation on the ground reflects that the problems are getting more severe, implying that the consequences to business will be more severe."

"The challenge for business leaders in 2012 will be to avoid complacency and backsliding on their sustainability commitments in spite of this downward trend," he continued.

Whitaker mentioned next year's Rio+20 conference, the objective of which is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, provides "a critical opportunity for companies to catalyze global action."


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