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Sustainability: Rethinking the Progress Narrative

As we focus on ways to ensure a sustainable future, we need to rethink our fixation with “progress.” I don’t mean to imply that progress is bad, but rather that we need to be more critical of the way we define it and the ways in which we pursue it.

One of the challenges we face is what has been termed the “multipolar trap.” Coined by Daniel Schmachtenberger, it refers to a situation where the pursuit of self-interest by multiple parties leads to actions that harm the collective interest. In the context of sustainability, this could mean that individual businesses or countries pursue their own economic growth at the expense of the environment or other stakeholders.

Another challenge is the prevailing progress narrative, which celebrates technological advancements and economic growth. This narrative often focuses on narrow goals and metrics without adequately considering the wider impacts on the environment, marginalized communities, or future generations.

We need to question this progress narrative and ask ourselves what kind of progress we really want. Do we want progress that benefits all of humanity, or just a select few? Do we want progress that is sustainable for the long term, or progress that comes at the expense of the environment? And for those of us running companies, are short-term profit goals adequate or should we reconsider them – in ways that help us run viable companies yet produce “progress” that ensures a sustainable future for our children?

The good news is that there are ways to overcome the multipolar trap and rethink the progress narrative in ways that meet this dual aim. One way is to foster collaboration and cooperation between different stakeholders. This could mean a well-defined collaborative framework involving businesses, governments, and civil society to develop and implement sustainable solutions.

Another way is to readjust our focus away from the short term – and take a more long-term view that ensures sustainability. This could mean redefining our goals and metrics to reflect the wider impacts of our actions.

Finally, we need to embrace foresight aimed at long-term viability. This is the ability to make sound decisions based on a deep understanding of the world and out place within it. It is the ability to see the big picture and to consider the long-term consequences of our actions.


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