05th November 2021

Book in Focus

The Global Sustainability Challenge

Edited by Gerard Magill and James Benedict

Our book on The Global Sustainability Challenge was inspired by the presentations given at a 2018 conference, part of an annual endowed series at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, USA. Discourse on ethics and the global sustainability challenge reflects the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations Development Programme in 2015. These SDGs, also known as Global Goals, are a universal call to action in relation to protecting the planet, ending poverty, and promoting peace and prosperity for all by 2030. These goals are integrated in the sense of action in one area affecting outcomes in others. The point is that development must balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability in our dynamic age of the Anthropocene when the human species has such a dramatic impact on the natural environment. We are recognising the age of sustainability in which we live. The analysis of global sustainability and ethics below reflects these goals, albeit by adopting different thematic categories: general issues, business and corporate social responsibility, governance, green concerns, and climate-related issues.

First, the goals of the United Nations require the development of global perspectives on sustainability. It is now well-established that sustainability requires relevant principles and diverse practices to guide this interdisciplinary endeavour to develop skills and furnish solutions. The long-term sustainability of the planet needs to integrate environmental, social, and economic sustainability. However, the concept of sustainability needs to be continuously revised and updated in a comprehensive manner that can serve future generations, emphasising the primacy of the environment and its natural limits. Specifically, there is an urgent need to foster innovative approaches to research, education, and capacity building that can transform the rhetoric of sustainability from global goals into having practical, local impact. In particular, collaboration between experts and the general public through community engagement is crucial to establish effective practices for global sustainability.

Second, business interests must be aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Goals, such as regarding investment efforts for sustainable development. Here, the hope is that sound financing of the UN goals can foster a more educated population with socially innovative endeavours. In global business, ecological sustainability is increasingly recognised as requiring guiding principles based on long-term-thinking. An example of this encouraging focus is evident in the relation between product design and global sustainability. Insofar as consumption is mediated through products and services, a crucial question for designers is how to plan for sustainable living across a diverse range of social, economic, and environmental responses. Naturally, these responses generate transnational standards and laws related to environmental and social sustainability of production processes. These standards must serve functions related to coordination (such as through common sustainability commitments) and functions related to regulation (such as by changing trade practices). Furthermore, while these endeavours must become operative globally, the most effective achievements can often occur on a regional basis across the world, such as in Asia. Naturally, these efforts in business relate closely with corporate social responsibility, highlighting the indispensable connection between ethics and sustainability from a global perspective, especially emphasising strategic decisions and sustainability choices.

Third, to make progress regarding the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, effective governance is indispensable. Global sustainability governance is now a well-established field in research, focusing on the multiple existential threats to the survival of the planet. Transformative governance of our global challenges must focus on conditions that engage sustainability by connecting ethics with law. In this governance context of pursing the UN’s global goals, responsibility and governance can be construed as constituting the twin pillars of sustainability. Of course, this approach necessitates a commitment to engagement and partnership between commerce and the community; here, strategy formation is founded upon corporate governance via social responsibility. Furthermore, there must be a very close connection between public and private interests, and especially between private governance and public authority to properly regulate sustainability in a global economy.

Fourth, the significance of a so-called green approach to sustainability requires an understanding of the interwoven dependence of diverse support systems to nurture the metaphorical green marble of planet earth. These systems need to be understood as inter-related spheres (including the bio-sphere, the hydro-sphere, and the techno-sphere). The global sustainability challenge must be engaged strategically by developing a sustainable roadmap for so-called green communities. This entails a sustainability revolution integrating economic, environmental, and social factors via green activities. The goal is to close the gap between rich and poor around sustainable communities, services, and sectors. This green approach is revolutionary in the sense of seeking dramatic changes in green energy, sustainable clean water, food, and agriculture.

The deployment of green energy technologies with strategies for global industries is crucial for sustainability if we are to replace our current reliance on fossil fuels. This focus enables the water-food-energy nexus to become more widely addressed as indispensable not only for green economies and sustainable development, but also to foster social justice globally.

From a variety of perspectives, safeguarding the water in our oceans is crucial for resolving problems created by global environmental change. Protecting the future of oceans and their coastal communities across the globe is necessary for oceanography and biodiversity, and is described as global water security by the World Water Council. Moreover, this precautionary approach to water sustainability requires the development of green infrastructure for global pathways that maintain the sustainability of fresh water around the world, illustrated in different sustainability frameworks and management strategies.

The water-food-energy nexus in global sustainability also requires a keen focus on agricultural development for the global food system. We need to foster a planetary perspective for a nourished planet with a global plan for feeding ourselves sustainably. Two examples highlight the urgency of this need. On the one hand, the dramatic rise over recent decades of what can be referred to as agro-food power in Brazilian agriculture demonstrates the significance of agricultural and rural development in a large regional economy. On the other hand, the human cost of cotton capitalism in India indicates the economic, social, political, and ecological issues that arise regarding global agribusiness. In this case, planting genetically modified seeds or certified organic cotton illustrates the local impact of global agrarian changes with regard to sustainable agriculture.

Finally, the water-food-energy nexus is, naturally, closely connected with climate from the perspective of global sustainability. For many decades, climate change has had a significant impact on agriculture and agroforestry, both of which must adapt systems to preserve habitats and ecosystems. Likewise, again reflecting this nexus, there is a critical connection between climate and sustainable energy. Climate change science is now a well-recognised and expansive field (including, for example, the evolution of climatology, climate prediction, and climate change functions) that significantly impacts sustainable development. Such science and expertise not only provide reliable data for social progress, but also shape policy formation and international cooperation. The goal is to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases and invent new carbon-zero technologies to avoid a looming climate catastrophe, especially one that has the biggest impact on those who did least to cause the problem. It is always important to mention that carbon inequality highlights the role of the richest people in society: they contribute in an ongoing manner to climate change and continue to block a low-carbon transition that ensures fossil fuels are replaced by renewable energy. Without doubt or debate, climate change constitutes a pervasive public health crisis, one that requires the utmost advocacy and intervention to mitigate its effects on those who stand to lose the most.

In sum, the sections that shape the book provide a general framework for addressing pivotal issues regarding ethics and the global sustainability challenge. The discussion provided in the book sheds further light by considering different perspectives related to business and corporate social responsibility, governance, green concerns, and climate change. Hopefully, these perspectives will enable the reader to grasp and engage this global ethical imperative.

Gerard Magill, PhD, was appointed as the Vernon F. Gallagher Chair for the Integration of Science, Theology, Philosophy, and Law at Duquesne University, USA, in 2007, and is also a tenured Professor in the Center for Healthcare Ethics at the same institution. He received his PhD from Edinburgh University, UK. He has published over 70 scholarly and professional articles, and is the author, co-author and editor of 12 books, including works in healthcare ethics and governance ethics.

James Benedict, PhD, is a Scholar-in-Residence in the Center for Healthcare Ethics at Duquesne University, USA, having received his PhD from this institution in 2015. He has authored one book on transplantation and consent, and is the co-editor of a further volume. In addition, he has published numerous study guides, and several scholarly and popular articles on ethics and religion. He has served for over 30 years in parish ministry in the Church of the Brethren.

The Global Sustainability Challenge is available now in Paperback and Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter the code PROMO25 to redeem. 

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