The concept of sustainability has been defined, and redefined, by many over the last decade. It is a subject everyone talks about: experts, non-experts, young people, adults, business people, and government officials. Some place special emphasis on environmental issues; others, on social, economic issues; and others still, on the relationships between all the components. There are great discussions about what it means, or rather, about the paths we must trace as a planet in order to be sustainable. Concepts, interests, cultures, etc. come up against each other, but we all seem to agree that it is a matter of temporariness. How do we meet today’s needs without compromising tomorrow’s? The United Nations managed to get the whole world to look in the same direction: the Sustainable Development Goals that marked out a path that we must follow as humanity in order to live with dignity, guaranteeing resources for future generations.
UNITED NATIONS MANAGED TO GET THE WHOLE WORLD TO LOOK IN THE SAME DIRECTION: THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS THAT MARKED OUT A PATH THAT WE MUST FOLLOW AS HUMANITY IN ORDER TO LIVE WITH DIGNITY, GUARANTEEING RESOURCES FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.
However, although the objectives are now clearer, we still face the challenge of their implementation: who, when, where, and how much money is needed? The discussion then takes a nuance between the practical and the philosophical, between the higher purpose that we as humans have and the will to carry it out. Questions arise as to who should start, whether to start from the bottom or whether it is the responsibility of the leaders. There are more questions about sustainability than there are answers, and there is an especially relevant one: who are the most critical players in making it a reality?
This is where the very classic discussion between the public sector and the private sector and their role in all this appears. The approach to the role that each must play is preceded by an even more complicated one: is it possible to talk about sustainability in these sectors? In the public sector, for example, there are some limitations to the possibility of being sustainable. A few of them may be:
- The periods of administration of the Executive Branch (four years) are insufficient for long-term projects to be developed in a sustained manner.
- The overload of the country’s regulations does not allow for progress and flexibility in the execution of public resources in order to make them economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.
- Building on what has been built has not been a pillar of governance of the public sector so that each time we start again, and the projects are unable to reach their capacity for transformation.
- Public policies, which are the tool that allows good practices to be maintained over time, are not executed rigorously. Their budget continues to depend on the scope that the incumbent wants to give them; thus, they can become invisible to the point of disappearing.
- Regulation around environmental issues is still not rigorous enough, not even for the public sector itself.
The private sector is also limited in being fully responsible in its economic, environmental, and social sustainability practices:
- The technological development available to generate savings and efficiencies is still insufficient or in some cases, very costly.
- There are difficulties in finding sustainable allies throughout the value chain that adapt to the needs of the sector.
- The training of business leaders has not been focused on sustainability, which suggests a limit to the massive corporate changes that are required for their development.
It can, therefore, be said that both sectors find significant limitations in the challenge of guaranteeing the resources of future generations and in acting in a fully environmentally and socially responsible manner. However, there is a possibility of reducing these limitations and instead of using the strengths of both sectors that have not been fully explored.
This possibility implies, first of all, deconstructing the idea that the sustainability of each sector can only be developed in isolation. Humanity cannot live in dignity in the future if each sector tugs at its own side and strives to generate transformations alone. The only way out is to connect, to network, to articulate and to come together as human beings, regardless of where we are.
The public sector cannot be sustainable without the private; the private sector cannot be sustainable without the public, but to this formula, I suggest adding two new fundamental actors: academia and the community, the other two major players.
It is only by aligning efforts between these sectors that it will be possible to speak of sustainability since each of them has unique, indispensable, and irreplaceable characteristics that end up being the key pieces for the construction of sustainable cities, countries, and planet.
To be able to work together, we must create systems, tools, methodologies, look for common ground and, fundamentally, before any development that allows articulation, we must, as human beings who compose these sectors, leave our ego to one side, leave our comfort zone, be willing to work with different people, break with the stereotypes of different sectors and think empathetically.
THE PUBLIC SECTOR CANNOT BE SUSTAINABLE WITHOUT THE PRIVATE; THE PRIVATE SECTOR CANNOT BE SUSTAINABLE WITHOUT THE PUBLIC, BUT TO THIS FORMULA, I SUGGEST ADDING TWO NEW FUNDAMENTAL ACTORS: ACADEMIA AND THE COMMUNITY, THE OTHER TWO MAJOR PLAYERS.
This is already possible, efforts have already been made to make this happen, and there are already examples of successes. However, it is still on a small scale. The call is for us to think as one, to be able, for the first time, to give up everything we have been building around individuality so that we can maintain and continue to improve our country and our planet. We have already shown that the path of sectorisation has not resulted in us becoming more sustainable; it is time for us to choose to work together for all humanity. Time is running out.