Critical Issues in Sustainable Development: Conference Summary of Central Themes and Outcomes
|Dr. Theo de Bruijn|
GIN- Europe Coordinator
Center for Clean Technology and Environmental Policy (CSTM)
University of Twente
P.O. Box 217
7500 AE The Netherlands
firstname.lastname@example.org +31 53 489 3203
|The GIN2005-1 conference basically looked at progress with respect to sustainable development. The conference announcement put it like this: |
Over the past decade sustainable development has been a central element in many conferences, books, Ph.D. theses, public policies, and corporate strategies. Yet, the question is, What has it brought us? Do we now understand what changes are necessary to realize sustainable development? Are we any closer to realizing these changes or developing strategies for them? Which actors, partnerships, and strategies are the most successful, and why? Or are the only tangible results new jobs for researchers and consultants? Time to take stock.
The central questions at the conference were:
The keynote session “From Confrontation to Collaboration” had two speakers: Hans Muileman, program manager at SNM - Policy for Sustainable Production and Consumption, largest Dutch environmental NGO; and Marc van den Eijnden, from De Hoeve, a pork processing company, one of the companies SNM is collaborating with. For the past two years SNM has been actively collaborating with business firms to stimulate them toward sustainable production and to create a network of CSR leaders. During the session we focused on the dilemmas of the new strategy. No definite answers were provided during the session but the discussion highlighted the crucial questions: How easily can a NGO alternate between different strategies? Is there a way back? How about credibility? Does the system change or are the partners creating just another niche?
The panel discussion “Dogma and Dilemmas” had participants from research, governments and industry:
· Graham Daborn, Acadia University, Canada.
· Jan van Wijngaarden, Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment-VROM, The Netherlands.
· Alfons Wispels, Raedthuys Holding, The Netherlands.
The debate focused again on roles of actors. Remarkable was the consensus on the role of the consumer: although the consumer is crucial in changing product chains, he can hardly be steered in a more sustainable direction. The driving force for sustainable development will have to come from elsewhere.
In breakout session I the main focus was on changing identities and roles of key actors involved in sustainability issues. Key actors in the process towards sustainability are corporations, governments, and NGOs. A question addressed during the session was if these actors changed their roles in the interaction process towards more sustainable ways of production and service delivery.
One conclusion that could be drawn from the debate was that while there are actors who are trying to change their role, overall there is little evidence of shifting roles. The discussion during the session also pointed out that changing roles is a quite problematic process. If roles are beginning to shift, actors can get lost in multi-role strategies.In breakout session II, “Production and Consumption Systems” the issue of sustainable development was addressed using a system perspective at various levels, from a micro (firm) to a macro (societal) level. Presentations referred to many different instruments and strategies that have been proposed or implemented in dealing with system change (for instance supply chain management, Product Service Systems, Net National Product, scenario building, stakeholder participation). Overall, the session showed how difficult the implementation of such a broad and abstract concept as sustainable development still is.
While sustainable development calls for collaboration, this collaboration can only be effective when there is explicit mutual understanding and mutual interests. In order to be effective, the design of partnerships also need to be sensitive to the institutional context. Then there is the question on leadership: who should drive sustainable development? There are little indications that business can and will take on this role. After two decades little has changed in this respect. Governments are probably still seen as the major driver for change. Experiences from the past make it doubtful however whether governments can be a strong enough driver. Although multiple examples of partnerships for sustainable development are available, the search for effective partnerships continues. Results of increased collaboration often seem rather modest and they can only be reached at the expense of huge transaction costs.The debate on sustainable development also seems self-referential. The world is going to rapid transitions. The main problem is not how to induce transitions (one of the main elements in the debate) but rather how to make sustainable development a central notion in on-going transitions.