The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!
By, Mark C. Coleman
It’s Time to Question Our OS
It is fascinating how much effort we put into evaluating what the best operating system (OS) is for our mobile devices: Apple, Android, Blackberry, Microsoft, and so on. It is equally captivating how these OS’s and devices have transformed our daily life. Projected to double by 2015, currently there are approximately one billion smartphone users in the world. Further, there are six billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. Demonstrated by the mass adoption of mobile devices to support our lifestyles, there is no doubt we take our OS’s very seriously.
Given our reliance upon data-driven OS’s that follow-us through life in sleek packages, it is prudent to ask of ourselves, how often do we look at the broader OS by which our generation conducts business, creates policy, and carries out a “lifestyle”? I would argue that we place much more emphasis on perfecting the OS of gadgets than looking inward to what values, morals, and ethics guide our personal OS throughout life. And with that, I believe it is time for a change. As a framework for a “new generational operating system”, sustainability can provide a platform for individuals to be personally accountable as citizens and consumers to their individual life, and as conscious stewards of the planet.
A multitude of economic, environmental, and social issues are simultaneously converging upon society. These concerns are complex, interrelated, and challenge conventional ways in which we can adapt to imminent change. Ongoing political subterfuge and extension of the government shutdown tied to America’s fiscal crisis is representative of the challenges our generation is trying to muddle our way through. But as the clock ticks and economic calamity nears, one has to ask: As a society, are we really making transformative progress toward a better future or simply relying on traditional political tactics of blocking and jockeying to maintain a status quo and prolong an inevitable economic, social, and environmental reality?
Sustainability offers a systems-level and holistic framework for our generation to adopt a new operating system (OS) to guide how we live, work, play, and interact. By adopting principles of sustainability in our daily lives can also foster critical thinking and pragmatic action which can, when aligned with personal accountability, enable our generation to meet our needs today without hindering our children from having a high quality of life in the future.
What the World Needs Now, a New OS for the Sustainability Generation
Sustainability can be defined and achieved in as many ways as there are people on earth, at least 7 billion! While having a common definition for sustainability is important, it is equally important for individuals to internalize what it means to them, and what role they will choose to play in being personally accountable to enacting it as new generational framework. In this context, sustainability then is about how “you, me, and we” will become the everyday actors and implementers of sustainability, driving it with a sense of purpose, and fully realizing its potential, as the new generational status-quo in which we continuously seek to improve our human interaction with each other and the natural world.
Living life with one foot in the present, one foot in the future, and with the good conscious toward respecting both is what being human is all about. Humans are in a constant tug-of-war with time and space as we try to live for the present, prepare for the future, and find enjoyment and happiness in the process. While we try to “save time” or “create more time into our day”, neither is really possible. Our attempts at earning more time on earth are futile attempts to gain efficiencies and productivity toward outcomes we’d like to see accomplished (primarily work or monetarily related) so that we have more time to ourselves. But when do we really ever have more time? There is always something competing for our attention and focus. What we do have control over however is our personal accountability to ourselves and the life we choose to lead. We can’t turn back the hands of time, or travel into the future (as far as I know). But we can address the here and now. So how do we learn from the past, be mindful of the future, but focus more attention on NOW? That is where a new generational OS comes into being.
Signals that Sustainability is here to Stay
Where and when in the hell did we go wrong regarding our consumptive and unsustainable lifestyles? I suppose it doesn’t matter. The time and place are irrelevant. Somewhere between Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” and Tom Friedman’s articulation of a very discomforting “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” world our generation lost itself, physically and virtually, amid big screens, big data, and big operating systems. We became complacent yet comfortable, entertained yet entitled, powerful yet paranoid. As global issues tied to the availability of basic life resources like clean air, water, and food resources have collided with our impact on the natural world, and as global conflicts and financial uncertainty have escalated, people have begun to be more awake and conscious to the current generational operating system that simply no longer meets our needs. Business as usual has no place in the current economy and needs of the world. We now need a generation of critical thinkers and doers that can incorporate multiple perspectives and points of view into our decision models at the onset, and so as to reduce unintended consequences of our actions.
Our mind shift toward a new generational OS enveloped in sustainability will not happen overnight. But the year 2014 appears to signal that the time has arrived for a Sustainability Generation to thrive on a global scale. Thanks to more than two decades of global coalitions and efforts like the United Nations Global Compact, Rio+20, Agenda 21, and other initiatives there has been a slow but steady infusion of sustainability principles influencing our collective conscious. And now as 2014 approaches there are clear signals from business, government, foundations, non-government organizations (NGOs), educational institutions, religious groups, and other stakeholders that sustainability has a specific meaning to them, that it is worth pursuing, and that it is here to stay as a fundamental choice and opportunity to drive change for a better world.
Collectively and globally, organizations are spending billions and taking charge on empowering employees, developing new products and services, drafting new public policies, establishing new programs, and creating new curriculum and workforce training programs to foster greater urgency and pursuit of sustainability in all facets of life. What is most impressive is how individual citizens and consumers have begun to internalize sustainability to their own actions, behaviors, and lifestyle choices. As everyday citizens take responsibility they reinforce the evolution of sustainability as a new generational OS.
While the role of policy and impact of products are critical, people represent the common denominator to a more (or less) sustainable world. Without citizens taking action to their consumptive habits in their daily life, sustainability remains a lofty goal without any teeth. Personal accountability by engaged citizens remains one of the last “tipping point” requirements for sustainability to evolve from a business oriented return-on-investment (ROI) model to a generational norm that is the new baseline by which all decisions are made. The year 2014 appears to be the tipping point for this new evolution in how the world views sustainability, and now motivated more than ever by “you, me, and we”.
Stepping out of the Status Quo: The Sustainability Generation
The generation alive here and now is the “Sustainability Generation”. It is comprised of the “Greatest Generation”, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennial’s, and whatever other label social scientists designate to make sense of who we are, how we behave, and with an intent to sell us more stuff, govern our behaviors, and collectively focus our future state of being. We are all an experiment, playing out real time. The Internet, large data centers, and the creation and dissection of “big data” is affording our generation the capacity and possibility of looking at ourselves in terms of a “generational IQ”, that is, how intelligent we are as the stewards of the earth, and our individual happiness.
Who we are as individuals, and the values we choose to bring to our daily life, is the true “[human] code” behind our operating system. We cannot create a unique algorithm or “App” for solving the world’s challenges. People and our relationship with each other and the natural world remain the fundamental building blocks of our OS. For our generation to have any chance at improving our life context it will remain up to each of us to be individually accountable citizens and consumers to our personal actions and behaviors. How we choose to conduct ourselves says a lot about who we are at the core of whatever OS we adopt. Thus, having a personal social responsibility to be conscious to the world is important.
Yet, it is as important to not allow our fascination with technology impede, misguide, or ill-judge who our true self is. Technology is but a conduit for society to manifest itself. However if the technology driven OS overrides our humanistic OS, society can quickly become ill aligned. By adopting “sustainability” as a new generational OS we can engage with technology and each other with a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and accountability.
If a fiscal cliff does not crush us a sustainability one will! How can we use our common intellect and generational IQ to protect and advance our freedoms while supporting our current needs? Have we overextended our reach? What are our true needs versus wants? What does America look like not just in 2 days but in 20 years? What role will you choose to serve as a citizen and consumer to advance the Sustainability Generation?
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Part 1, Sustainable Manufacturing is Shaping America’s Industrial Future
Part 2, Using Operational Excellence to Achieve Competitive Advantage
Part 3, Sustainability Happens When People and Innovation Collide
The series focuses on the market drivers shaping the future of manufacturing, how small manufacturers have created lasting value from their investment in sustainability at an operational level, and how organizations can maximize their impact and return-on-sustainability by investing in, and integrating, people and innovation.
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Read Mark’s August 12th Guest Column with Environmental Leader titled, “The Inevitable Convergence: Corporations, Carbon, and Consumers“. Mark co-wrote the article with his colleague Denny Minano, the former vice president and chief environmental officer of General Motors Corporation.
In the article Mr. Minano and Mr. Coleman state “Business has discovered that the emergence of the “carbon conscious consumer” is a new reality influencing their strategy, operations, and products. The convergence of carbon within the consumer mindset has altered allocation of corporate resources. Corporations are now working to proactively engage their stakeholders to discover how best to align societal and business goals to achieve success.”
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