When “sustainable” development went mainstream, it became an economic and corporate mantra that even governments supported. The policies that went with sustainability, however, became a challenge with deep-rooted problems that global corporations and even smaller organizations need to address from top to bottom. And as consumers and traders themselves feel the impact of “sustainability” that encompasses responsible sourcing, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, economic aims have to be realigned, renegotiated, or even overhauled.
These days, the environment and trade seem to be in conflict with each other due to the goal of trade interests running counter to environmental concerns. While the final goal of economists is to maximize profits and output as well as to maintain economic growth, environmentalists aim to maintain or improve a worsening global ecology and environment fast degrading and depleted. Consequently, reconciling these two diverse goals has been a difficult challenge for both ends. The need for perseverance and double-time approach by both parties is mandatory in order to realize results that are both economically and ecologically sound.
This matter could have been easily resolved if participation is limited to policy-makers and decision-makers. But this is not the case as all stakeholders have to find ways of maintaining human well-being based on sustainable development while green advocates pursue an end to putting pressure on the Earth’s natural systems and resources.
Bhagwati argued that trade already has an efficient policy that generally helps environmentalism through economic growth. He strongly pointed out that trade is inevitable because of the two mainstream merits of trade: the virtues of specialization and a sustainable market that leads to economic growth. In addition, the government gains tax revenues and raises resources as a result of economic growth. It was proposed that revenues could be used for the abatement of pollution and for the protection of the environment. As economic growth leads to higher incomes for individuals, higher income potentially reduces pollution as individuals afford ways to protect the environment.
This idea, however, seems to have limited feasibility in reality. Daly contended that first, it is difficult for an environmental system to recover and cannot recover in some cases; second, environmental costs increase faster than do the environmental benefits of economic growth.
Daly proposed trade is based on international specialization according to comparative advantage resulting in economic globalization. Most of the time, trade sought a straight line towards the maximization of profits and production without considering the hidden social and environmental costs. In fact, economies may expand forever if not for environmental boundaries considered much more limited than economic boundaries. Therefore, economic growth should synchronize with environmental improvement. As it was already observed, as nations increase trade, the risk of environmental disaster follows.
While trade is essential to expand a nation’s economy, its implication to the well-being of people has remained questionable. Economic growth has moved faster than ever in the twenty-first century but unprecedented global economic growth has caused environmental issues. Actually, economic growth plays a major role in natural losses. About 40 % of land-based primary productions are already serving human purposes and the unabated consumption of natural resources will disable Earth to sustain greed for profits. Growth intensive results in huge global environmental damage. The carbon emission increases the average temperature of the earth and strains freshwater supplies.
Trade of rare mammals and species will result in the loss of species while massive catching of fish and other consumer products contribute to the problem as well. Air and water pollution aggravates diseases and agricultural crops and harms the ecosystem. Another serious problem is reaching the threshold in the world’s production of oil and other natural resources. Not only will environmental damage result, but there will also be social impacts on modern life due to environmental contamination such as infectious diseases easily spreading in less-developed countries, chronic disease in industrial countries. Meanwhile, wealth inequality due to economic reasons has also become widespread.
As Gardner pointed out, a sustainable economy should become the basis for developing systems that meet the needs of people at the least cost to the natural environment. In my understanding, there are two main advantages of a sustainable economic system:
The first is it adjusts to a physical-economic scale. Government regulation adjusts the economic scale such as supporting the global Kyoto protocol for reducing carbon emissions.
The second idea is that the system should shift from a growth-intensive to one of human development and well-being. Unlike a growth-intensive economy, where the goal is to produce even greater quantities of goods and services that are untenable in the world, a sustainable economy will improve human well-being as it focuses on world development and not on material growth: these include energy stocks, and indispensable necessities including water, air purification, and soil fertility.
Economies should prioritize human well-being within a sustainable environment and give less emphasis on rapid growth. A sustainable economy should be supported by governments and should help maintain and develop natural resources while supporting the economy.
Economic expansion should be within the environment’s capacity with high regard to preservation and sustenance of nature that includes flora, fauna, and humanity. Greed causes unrecoverable consequences if not disasters and while individuals or groups from financially successful organizations may achieve certain status and wealth, this does not buffer them from the consequences of an altered, imbalanced environment.
Sustainable development should not only be a goal and a symbol for corporate social responsibility: it should be a core goal that balances economic progress, environmental care, and social responsibility. The earth is fast giving in to the demands of economic greed. Individuals and organizations should respond strategically fast as if war has erupted, or face the dire pay-back consequences nature has started demanding.