Valeria Colombo

Sustainability is a multifaceted issue and the acronym ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), which is used in the financial sector, includes the environmental, social and corporate governance factors that can (and must!) be considered when assessing whether a company, business model or country is committed – and to what extent – to sustainability. It goes without saying that if there at least three dimensions – the “ESG” ones – then a wide range of competences are involved in dealing with sustainability. You will certainly need to know about the environment, pollution, use of resources and energy, but also about social aspects, such as working conditions, human rights, education, health, and finally also about the best practices of corporate (or state) governance that guarantee the representativeness of all stakeholders and the sustainability of a production model, a service or a country over time. 

I was recently part of a working group tasked with building a model for assessing the ESG profile of nation states. How complex it is to carry out such an analysis! What aspects define the sustainability profile of a country, of a nation? We started with the assumption that the states that contribute the most to sustainable development are those that best protect and promote fundamental rights and objectives, such as human freedom and rights, peace, security, stability, accessible and efficient health, welfare, education, employment, justice, equality, and the preservation of livelihoods and natural resources. And what are the indicators, the data needed to analyse and evaluate this contribution? I won’t use this column as a methodological note on the work done, but take it as an opportunity to emphasise that it is necessary to draw on very different sources, skills and experiences in order to investigate sustainability in all its forms. This means that a team working on sustainability projects will need people with very different backgrounds and specialisations, as well as someone who may not have any specific skills but who has soft skills, such as the gift of conciseness and having a good overview. Welcome, then, to multidisciplinary teams in which environmental engineers and scientists work constructively with economists, sociologists, experts in geography (physical, political and human!), law, political science, medicine and so on.  And what about when it is not possible to bring together different skills, because of a lack of resources or because sustainability is being looked after by just one person, who may also be dedicated to other tasks? Then one must draw on the great resource that is collaboration and the sharing of good practices and experiences. There are numerous networks and open-source platforms that aim to disseminate research, experience and tools that are useful for practising and measuring sustainability and from which to draw on for operational ideas and to deepen one’s knowledge. 

What I am witnessing in dealing with these issues is – for once – healthy competition and constructive emulation: sustainability is a constantly evolving subject, as is our planet and the society we live in and, unfortunately or fortunately, there is no single recipe for achieving sustainable development but many possible contributions (or attempts) that everyone can make. Therefore, coalitions and alliances in which numerous operators in the same sector or supply chain, competing on the market, commit to working together to find more sustainable solutions, for example in the use of resources, recycling of materials or reduction of CO2 emissions in production cycles, are widespread. 

I am not Candide and I won’t close by saying that sustainability is the best of all possible worlds, but I do feel I can say that the challenges posed by climate change and social inequalities are giving new meaning to collaboration between people and organisations and to diversity as an essential element in finding creative and innovative solutions to achieve the common goal of sustainable development.

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