Growth and accumulation of wealth appear to have been the primary focus in the 20th century, often at the cost of the society which resulted in many socio-economic, political and environmental problems. Better understanding and awareness of these problems has led to the evolution of Quality, Environmental, HSE systems, & Business Excellence models and has brought back the focus on stakeholders’ satisfaction and sustainability.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
Sustainability is the buzzword these days. But, what it means, what do we need to do and why is it so important are some of the questions which come foremost in our minds.
Most of us relate sustainability to the environment. This, of course, is partially correct, but it is much more than that; it covers a broad spectrum.
Sustainability covers the planet as a whole, all its living beings, their well-being, peace and prosperity, maintenance of the rivers, oceans, mountains, forests, and their coexisting in harmony.
THE PILLARS OF SUSTAINABILITY
The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social—also known informally as profits, planet, and people.
- Social sustainability has many dimensions but the chief among them are poverty alleviation, equity, removal of discrimination and gender equality.
- Economic sustainability is about economic growth through sustainable development, innovation, resilient infrastructure, sustainable production, and sustainable consumption.
- Environmental sustainability is about caring for nature, its flora and fauna, biodiversity, oceans, rivers, mountains, and forests with avoidance of over exploitation of resources.
The Unites Nations recognized the need for holistic sustainability, that is sustainability for all the 3 pillars, which is important for preserving the planet, ensuring happiness and removing misery.
SUSTAINABILITY: OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLE?
The ancient Indian scriptures such as the Vedas and Puranas laid great emphasis on harmony with nature. Vedas have several references in them on environmental protection, ecological balance, weather cycles, and related subjects. The four Vedas recognize the importance of season cycles which may get altered due to climate change and inappropriate human actions.
A clear reference to the presence of a protective layer which we now know to be the ozone layer that filters the harmful rays of the sun and protects the earth and praises the radiation that enters the atmosphere that is responsible for the health of the environment.
The Vedas talked about the balance and sustenance between the humans and Nature (FlexiPrep)
The concept that the Earth is the supporter of all life and that human action should be careful not to destroy the balance is also a strong theme running through the Vedas. This emphasis highlights that human beings and their natural surroundings are inseparable, just as a mother and her child.
Our great ancestors were careful to refrain from activities that could cause harm to Nature’s bounties. Somewhere this critical aspect of sustainable living appears to have missed our minds in our drive for growth and accumulation of wealth.
ACHIEVING SUSTAINABILITY IN THE PRESENT TIME
The United Nations after a detailed discussion with all member countries in 2015 arrived at 17 sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are the cornerstone for Sustainable Development. The SDGs outline the actions that need to be taken and the targets that need to be achieved on various aspects of sustainability by 2030. In essence, it is a document for effective and holistic governance and 190 countries are signatory to this document.
The similarities between the Vedas and SDGs
- Climate change
In the ancient scriptures, Earth is treated as a mother and the well-being of Mother Earth is critical for preservation and sustenance of the Environment and Life. This teaching directly implies the adverse effects changing climate could have on our lives and livelihoods.
The UN SDGs 13 (Climate Action) also talks about combating climate change, reducing greenhouse gases, preventing deforestation, integrating climate change policies in government, business and our lives for the same reasons.
- Conservation of ecosystems
The Ancient Indian scriptures revere animals and nature and regard everything around them as pervaded by divine presence. The rivers, mountains, lakes, animals, flora and fauna, are all manifestations of God, and therefore there is a deep respect and gratitude towards nature as a whole which inculcated great conservative and sustainable interactions between the humans and their surroundings.
Sacred Animals carved in the temples as nature is revered in the Ancient Indian Literature (Hindu Website)
Similar interactions are expected from the SDGs by drawing attention to the importance of biodiversity and ecological balance, for instance:
- SDG 14 (Life Below Water) outlines the need for conservation and sustainable use of oceans and rivers to maintain marine biodiversity.
- SDG 15 (Life on Land) discusses the conservation of forests, protection of animals, land biodiversity and goal to prevent degradation and desertification.
- Goals for improving the Quality of Life
Many SDGs like SDG 1 and 2 (No Poverty, Zero Hunger); SDG 4 and 6 (Quality Education, Clean Water and Sanitation) and the others focus on improving the quality of life for millions around the world by practicing sustainable consumption, reducing waste, and creating a circular economy.
The social goals under SDGs to reduce Poverty, Hunger, Social inequality, and Illiteracy and important stepping stones towards a sustainable world (The Independent)
These ideologies also resonate with the Ancient Indian philosophy.
The core function of business according to Vedas is to create wealth for a society based on ‘Sarva Loka Hitam’ which means “Well-being of all stakeholders”. Sustainable growth comes by earning money and livelihood following the above ‘Values’. This is the same ideology behind a Circular Economy.
One of the scriptures called ‘Atharva-Veda’ says ‘Voluntary Social Contributions’ by all. This practice is estimated to reduce the taxes to a mere 6% of the GDP, in comparison to the current 25% – 50% taxes in developed economies. The practice of self-ethics and creation of a learning environment would result in higher performances.
In essence, Ancient Indian way for sustainable growth ensures continuous flow of knowledge, finances, physical resources, learning and information, like a river, for the prosperity of the ‘Global Society’.
The Ancient Indian philosophy derives infinite creativity, actions and power from universal laws of Nature, in other words, a guide for good governance. The 17 SDGs is also a prescription for good governance, peace and prosperity for all, highlighting the same aspects, outlined in a way that suits the current times.
MULTIPLE STAKEHOLDERS FOR A SUSTAINABLE SYSTEM
The UN recognizes that it cannot be implemented just by Governments alone. It has to be a collective responsibility of all Governments, Individuals, Corporates, Educational Institutions, NGOs and civil societies. The 17 SDGs may impact some of us or all of us depending on the goal. It is essential to understand the goals that impact us and subsequently take steps and measures to reduce the impact in our sphere of influence.
The SDGs have to be largely self-driven.
- Individuals will be driven by self-awareness and self-motivation
- Corporates will be driven by customers and markets demanding sustainability in their products and operations, ethics and principles, legal framework and compliances.
- Educational Institutions will be driven by their desire to be institutions of excellence catering to the changing needs, desire to create a more aware future generation, ethics and principles and government guidelines.
- Governments will be driven by the performance of governance which satisfies the people, agreements with the UN and other governments. The goals apply to all levels of Government (central, state or province, district etc).
- NGOs and Civil Societies will be driven by the accountability to the people supporting them with resources, Government and their audited performances shared in the public domain. They are like surveillant who ensure accountability of the Government, Corporates, Individuals, Educational institutions and support them in implementing the goals.
The UN SDG matrix presented here is not merely an attempt to create awareness on SDGs, but also to demonstrate an easy and organized implementation of the Development Goals which may seem intimidating.
ADAPTING YESTERDAY’S SOLUTIONS FOR TODAY’S PROBLEMS
The 17 UN SDGs and ancient Ancient Indian scriptures are propagating the same principles of sustainability. In ancient times sustainability was practised more diligently but over the years the practices got diluted and have now reached the point where we need to go back to the roots and revive our practices.
The entire ecological balance of life depends on the three pillars; Social sustainability, Environmental sustainability and Economic sustainability and the UN SDGs are presented in a way that suits the understanding of the modern world. The SDGs provide a framework for all the three pillars and so does the Ancient Indian scriptures as we have seen above. All work on sustainability must be a composite of all the three pillars else it is unlikely to succeed.
The Vedas and UN SDGs were and are the cornerstones for good governance and good living.
Sustainability is not an option or a choice any more, it is the basis of survival of life itself. Governments have to embrace sustainability to prevent economic downfall, environmental degradation and social unrest. Institutions and organizations need to ensure that sustainability is the basis of their growth and future strategies for their survival.