In the early days when we first heard about the concept, everybody called it “sustainability”. It was a term everybody was familiar with but did not use very often. Then it suddenly became very popular. “Sustainability” became the most fashionable theme of all for conferences and the most important openings. I wonder whether it was introduced to cause distraction from the atmosphere of economic crisis. Or was it that it became fashionable because when it comes to such a sensitive matter as the environment, the chips are finally down for the future generations?
“Sustainability” may be defined as the “ability to be permanent”. We also have sustainable development and the general definition for that is “is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come”… (1)
In reality, everybody wants to be sustainable. Individuals, associations, enterprises, universities and even governments… This is normal. Everybody wants to reach the future, leave a trace and not get lost in eternity. Everyone wants to render permanent the values they create and the advantages brought by those values. People want to secure not only today and themselves but also the future and the next generations. But this is not a new concept. Some may even think that having a child is a way of being sustainable. But is the way to make ourselves and our environment sustainable to have many children? What kind of a future would be brought about by not being able to offer them a good education, nor develop an infrastructure that would help them have equal opportunities to contribute to production in the future? Would such a future provide us with security, or endless difficulties and chaos? Which one will take us into the future: A continuous development, or a meaningful one?
Looking at the matter from the standpoint of enterprises, all the strategies, objectives and policies that are developed intend to make an enterprise’s success permanent in conditions of changing competition. Being able to render the systems independent of individuals is also a way of being permanent. The infrastructure should be built in such a way that when we take out any individual from any position the business should continue. Similarly, the business should be able to continue if an executive or even the leader is taken out of the picture and the individual(s) who will be replacing them should have made the necessary preparations beforehand. The keys to being sustainable in many companies are the family/company constitutions that ensure the permanency of the enterprise under all conditions, along with the procedures that explain the company’s operation in detail.
When we talk about sustainability, the first thing that comes to my mind is the necessity to make long-term plans. I believe this is the first rule. Thinking about the future, making predictions, making investments- all of these should be long-term. Like the old adages say: “keep a thing seven years and you’ll always find a use for it” or “as you sow so you shall reap”. Investing in education is perhaps one of the best examples of a long-term plan. The outcome of an investment will be sustainable if that investment encourages people to think, question, develop and be creative.
What, then, is the objective of a sustainable system? In a sustainable structure, the system is not a notion that is independent of its surroundings but instead the system and the surroundings come together as one. The objective is to improve the conditions of the system as a whole. This is perhaps what we find most challenging because our objective is always to maximize our own interests. And this takes us to the “game theory” that John Nash set forth as an alternative to the classical economics approach. In the classical economics approach, in order for interest to be maximised within a group, each group member chooses the option that would allow their own interest to be maximised. Nash, on the other hand, has shown that the maximum interest is only possible when everyone chooses the option that maximises the group’s interests. Let me try to explain this through a very simple example. Imagine an enterprise where all the employees want to become leaders. Salary, career expectations, status, these are all the maximum benefits they will be able to realise for themselves if they can become leaders… But how will this company be managed if they all become leaders? Do all these people need to be leaders for this company to have a permanent life? Or should the most appropriate person be the leader even though each one of them has certain leadership qualities? Because a company cannot be managed well where everyone is a leader, this company may face conditions that will affect all employees negatively in the long run. The performance of the business can only be positively affected if there is one leader and all the other individuals are given the most suitable roles within the business through appropriate career planning. This would then allow all employees to get to much better positions in terms of salary, career and status compared to the situation where everyone is a leader. Well, should everything be done for the sake of man? Absolutely not. In order to be sustainable, we need to consider all beings around us, whether living or non-living, not only on a human scale. This is rule number 2.
This approach takes us to the seven big ideas on conceptual reform in economics which you can find under the “What can be done?” section of the Worldwatch 2008 report. These are 1- Adjust economic scale; 2- Shift from growth to development; 3- Make prices tell the ecological truth; 4- Account for nature’s contributions; 5-Apply the precautionary principle; 6- Revitalise commons management and 7- Value women, respectively.(2) Those who are interested can visit the relevant website for further details. But, of course, when we read the next report, we see how few efforts were made about the recommendations given above. Still, the fact that the approach is changing and that the recommendations set out in the Worldwatch report are being discussed more vigourously every day reminds humankind that we are all sailing on the same ship and should not be thinking only about our own interests.
Speaking of being reminded of things, it is not possible to have a healthy future without being at peace with the past. This is rule number 3. The undeniable effect of the past on an individual’s current psychology that is emphasised by different schools of psychoanalysis, is also true for businesses and even for governments. I believe that we still have a lot to do about this in our country. Please see the preface written by İlhan Selçuk for Mehmet Sucu’s book “September 12 Bans”. He writes “We are obliged to remember the past in order to walk on the path that leads to democracy.”
The environmental damage caused by the increasing population, growing economies and the energy resources we currently use… Why renewable? Because it is difficult to be sustainable without being renewable. This is rule number 4. The research done on natural energy resources as alternatives to fossil and nuclear fuels has brought about the concepts of sustainable and renewable energy. Renewable energy is defined as “an energy resource that can re-exist the next day within the nature cycle”.(3) This is closely related to items 4 and 5 of the Worldwatch report. I also believe that it would be beneficial to combine renewability with recycling, a concept we have known for a long time.
And rule number 5 for sustainability is the principle summarised by Atatürk’s idea of “peace at home, peace in the world”. Aiming to destroy the opponent in competition seems to be a much easier solution in the first analysis. However, difficult though it is, avoiding being destructive even in competition is in fact the more productive strategy. Ensuring sustainable development through being nourished by differences and conflicts, being able to continue living together instead of choosing to rule over, being at peace with competitors, humankind, the past, oneself and nature…