A Sustainability Lens on the Challenges of a New Year

It is the beginning of a New Year, and as we all return to work at the start of 2023, we face a new set of challenges both at home and in our professional lives. Some of these challenges have been with us for some time now, although perhaps their true gravity and the potential that they hold to transform our lives, only really came into focus as an eventful 2022 was winding to a close. From graduates to industry-leading professionals and directors, and from young families all the way to those now long retired, the pressures that we now face in our day-to-day lives are becoming concerning. Most of us are left wondering what we can do, within our individual spheres of influence, to adapt, survive and hopefully thrive within an emerging new context.

Yonder sustainability challenges

A Challenging Global Context

The past twelve months has seen devastating floods in Pakistan, against a backdrop of the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic upon communities all around the globe. We have also seen a major war on European soil, which has presented the European and wider western community with an urgent need to provide whatever aid we can to support the people of Ukraine and its surrounding region.

The world seems to be on a worrying trajectory, with the everyday lives of many communities and the individuals within them, either under direct or repercussive threat caused by disruptions to the availability of natural resources, food, fuel, and other vital supplies. International relations seem at a low ebb, economies have been disrupted at national level, and hence, our globalized supply chain and consumer economy has been fundamentally destabilized. These challenges can seem insurmountable, and it has ever been the response of national governments, international and regional factions in such challenging times, to close boundaries and batten-down the hatches. Even, to cease collaborating altogether. Cut-backs, austerity, protectionism and exclusion become attractive propositions. While openness, sharing and good-will seem like unaffordable commodities. This reaction is not necessarily incorrect - what was not working has to be unmade or trimmed back, to become fit and lean to evolve, and then prosper in the new context. Competition is healthy as it drives innovation and progress. Yet, it is also true that we now live at a pinnacle of human societal and technological evolution, with the growth of the world wide web and affordable air travel over recent decades having brought us all so much closer together. Our shared, innate drive to innovate, transform and thereby react to this change and instability, has shifted the ‘Sustainable Development’ agenda from a secondary, peripheral influence, to a major focus of thought within our political systems, societies and economies. Surely, it is now clear to all that our similarities far outweigh any differences. An inclusive and deeply integrated global society has brought rapid technological innovation, and promises so much more for the future. We all face the same challenges - we need to respond, to get lean, evolve and move forward together.

Echoes in Our Own Back Yards

The knock-on effects of a myriad of major global events and changes, of which the above-mentioned number but a few, upon almost every aspect of our daily lives, has been profound. However remotely we reside from the epicenter of each one. What is true at international and national level, also applies in our working lives, and at home.

You may be facing some difficult decisions at organisational level - growth predictions of a year or two ago may now seem optimistic, and you may be feeling the need to be proactive to secure the future. At home, a budget that seemed affordable and frugal only a year ago, may now seem increasingly unaffordable, as supply chain issues hit our food and energy supplies, driving inflation ever higher. This, against a backdrop of un-welcome and yet not necessarily avoidable, stagnating household incomes. Redundancies and strike actions resultantly became unwelcome guests at our festive celebrations this year, leaving holiday greetings and festive traditions feeling a little strained, or even distasteful in some cases. For example, how did your organisation approach the office party tradition of ‘Secret Santa’ this year? As a Building Physics and Sustainability Consultancy, we at Yonder seriously considered dropping the whole idea for Christmas 2022 – on the face of it, it is a wasteful use of resources that could better be employed elsewhere. Our staff were given the choice to opt in or out, to provide a charitable donation if that sat more comfortably with them. I’m sure many of you faced the same question in the run up to the festive season! Is that conflict between our moral compass and our natural desire to find happiness amidst the chaos justified? Or is this conflict of conscience unnecessary? Perhaps allowing ourselves the time and space to have a bit of fun could actually enhance our ability to make the changes that we need to make at every level of our international community! Starting in our own back yards.

Sustainability - Back to Basics

As the field has grown, the number of definitions and perspectives of what Sustainability really means have snowballed.  What is actually a very simple and flexible concept has become complex – more rigid and less accessible. At the same time, as international and national governance, as well as charitable and profit-making organisations have sought to answer the question of ‘how do we deliver the Sustainable Development agenda?’, the number of frameworks and policies formed with this in mind has become a confusing landscape to navigate. Especially from a standing start. While this standardization and frame-working is necessary to provide the tools that we need to take action, it should not mask the basic tenets of what Sustainability really means.

Sustainability Diagram

Sustainability is...

The ability of society to meet the needs of today, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow. It is a pragmatic, inclusive and cooperative trajectory that promotes and protects the three basic pillars of human society, without preference for any one above the other:

People

Environment

Economy

This does not mean that all organisations must be procaryotic in their single-celled service to all of the pillars, all of the time. That is not pragmatic, nor can it be efficient. One size does not fit all. It means that we are all part of a eucaryotic, multi-cellular organism, as part of which, we must seek to find our own most efficient trajectory towards the promotion of each pillar. This, as best we are able in the present, according to our unique context and sphere of influence. That trajectory can change from day to day, from year to year. Our context and resources do not remain static, and so neither can we. It is fundamental that we learn to avoid profiteering at the expense of our planet. Equally, we must protect ourselves and each other far better than we have done in the past.

While we face this challenge – of changing how we live, to avoid unduly or unaccountably withdrawing from the resources of the planet upon which we reside – we must not render our economies inflexible or unproductive as we do so. Hence, we should avoid dogmatic protectionism of the environment, where that compromises the wellbeing of people, or renders our endeavors unprofitable. This is a vital and yet often overlooked priority of Sustainable Development. We can achieve the evolution required with honest thought, accountability, pragmatism and cooperation. Whilst our frameworks can help us to deliver against this, perhaps we ought not to be governed by them. The objectives of the Sustainable Development Agenda often seem to value Environmentalism or Social Justice above Economics, and so can seem threatening to our ability to make profit. Yet, the ability of our economy to keep the money flowing is vital to the stability of our society! By finding a dynamic balance between those three pillars, and remaining flexible to react to global changes, we can develop sustainably – Sustainable Development is evolution, not revolution.

So, how did your organisation approach Secret Santa this year then?

At this point, you could not be blamed for wondering what on earth all of this could have to do with something as trivial as Secret Santa, it is a fair question. While it may seem flippant to even mention such foundational global challenges in the same breath as such a light-hearted and celebratory tradition, it is not. We bear a responsibility to examine every aspect of our daily lives, the seemingly unimportant things we do, in light of the existential challenges that we now face together.

Giving gifts (even silly ones) and more so buying gifts, and that includes wrapping paper, while drawing upon the resources of our planet, is good for the economy. More importantly, it makes us smile! None need a smile so much as those that have no more to give – and does that not apply more than ever at such a challenging time? Most things can be recycled, repurposed, and those that can’t can be discarded – it is not a crime! As long as we are as responsible as we can be with that in mind, and preferably, ever more so. Wrapping paper is a commodity that can be traded, must be manufactured and distributed, and it brings us happiness. Why is that a less valid use of paper than any other? A healthy economy, driven by motivated and happy people is more likely to be able to find ways to be more responsible with our planet. Does that not have some benefit to the Environment, if indirectly? It is not sustainable to cancel the festive season. It is sustainable to be thoughtful about it, and to bring home the benefits that celebrations give. We’ve had a tough year, and have a tough year to come. The value of celebration this year - without having to take tests or wear masks to be part of it - is huge! Maybe in a few years, when things are running more smoothly again, we might need a smile less than we do now. Perhaps the decisions we make in a few years’ time may not, and should not, be the same decisions that we make now. That pragmatism and flexibility is an important part of Sustainable Development. Sometimes, making a sacrifice in one area for a short time, can unlock the potential for us to make huge progress in other areas.

Yonder sustainability challenges secret santa

Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) and the Zero Carbon Agenda

That is what motivates Yonder, as a consultancy. This philosophy is how we approach ESG and the Zero Carbon Agenda - how we would like to help your organisation to find its Sustainable Path through the Three Pillars. We can help you to see through what is a broad and complex landscape, to what really matters to your organisation – filter out the noise.

What are the current and likely future risks and opportunities that actually lie within your sphere of influence?

Where is your organisation able to act most efficiently, to greatest effect, in the present? How might you capitalize in these areas?

Which Sustainable Development Priorities could actually be damaging to your progress in those key areas?

How can they be managed going into the future?

We can help you to identify the priorities, and hence frameworks and targets that you can most effectively apply, and help you to make that happen in the real world.

Your ESG policy, and your path to Zero Carbon, should be simple, informed, flexible, individual and importantly, profitable for your business and employees. Sustainability is an exciting challenge, and is full of opportunity, if you know where to look and how to think about it. Especially, if you keep it as simple as possible… We can help with that. We want to help! Yonder exists to be a positive influence on those we employ and those that we work with. We want to do that by making a profit, and by helping our clients to make a profit. By doing that, we can have a positive impact on the world in which we live. However, we can’t do anything at all without you or your expertise. So, give us a shout.

Yonder

Yonder provide a full suite of Building Physics, Energy Regulation Compliance, Sustainability Assessment and Building Integrated Modelling Services for the construction sector. We provide strategic ESG and Zero Carbon advice to property developers, owners and other organisations, as they seek to form strategies to meet the challenges of the emerging economic and political context. And we help them to deliver against the strategy at a tactical level, on the ground. If you would like further information, to arrange a call, meeting or presentation either in person or remotely, we would love for you to get in touch.

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