The Must Haves for a Sustainable 2050

| February 15, 2012 | Leave a Comment

This report describes an 18-month World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) project, Vision 2050. The vision was formed by a technique of backcasting past events, to evaluate the plausibility of reaching a reasonably sustainable world in 2050. The team comprised of 29 senior strategists representing 29 diverse companies. Its leadership included two of the co-authors of the present report: Idar Kreutzer, CEO of Storebrand, a large Norwegian financial services company. and Mohammad Zaidi, who was until the latter part of 2011, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of Alcoa, one of the world’s leading aluminum companies. They were joined by two CEOs from WBCSD member companies, Price Waterhouse Coopers and Syngenta.

The project is causing major strategic re-thinking among the 200 member companies in the World Business Council, and has generated thoughtful discussions in proceedings conducted by the United Nations, OECD, and a variety of academic institutions. That WBCSD has led the way on this project is especially significant given that its member companies have $7 trillion in annual revenues (comparison: China’s GDP at current exchange rate is $5.8 trillion).

An important focus of the Report is to call out the urgency that is being felt by WBCSD member companies, and their concern that we must bring together many elements of global society to accomplish its objectives. The Report emphasizes the challenge of bringing together government, business, and NGOs to accomplish the very difficult 40 “must-haves “ that the Report’s analysis shows to be essential if we hope to be on track to achieve a sustainable 2050.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development completed the Vision 2050 project in February of 2010. It stands as the most comprehensive set of milestones and one of the most plausible visions of the future of human civilization.

The two authors of the Report, Kreutzer and Zaidi, have joined with Stanford University professor of Biological Science, Paul Ehrlich, and Bob Horn, a visiting scholar at Stanford, to go beyond the WBCSD report. Here we try to summarize the strategic implications of the work done by the Vision 2050 project. What’s especially significant about it is the clear indication that the companies in the WBSCD have achieved agreement on a new concept that represents a turning point – a way of thinking about our collective future in which business are prepared to commit themselves to be part of sustainable future. We think the identification of a critical 40 “must haves” to make that destination a real prospect is an extraordinary accomplishment. To fulfill its promise about the future, others will need to explore the clusters that represent key elements in each of those critical objectives – in short, supporting the new directions necessary for us to reach a sustainable 2050. This reminds us that we are now well into the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

The other major advance represented in this report is the way in which it brings together representatives of two major institutions in our civilization that often have been at odds with each other. Two of its authors represent the forward-looking business community; another, my colleague Paul Ehrlich, a spokesman for decades on the part of the scholarly community supporting environmental responsibility. These authors, among whom I am proud to count myself, agree that there is a singular need for diverse institutions in our civilization to do the urgent work of confronting climate change, social inertia, and the other challenges that confront the prospect of sustainability.

We are pleased to make this report the first in the series that the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) will be producing. We hope that it will inspire representatives of governments, academic institutions, non-government organizations and business communities to work together in more fruitful ways to accomplish the 40 must-haves.

Don Kennedy
President emeritus , Stanford University

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  • Larry Victor

    The 40 MUST HAVES list structures (physical and societal)needed to be present in 2050 for sustainability to follow. What are missing are the MUST HAVES necessary to insure that these 40 objectives are achieved. What distribution of competence and knowledge of different human populations are necessary? I note there is no EDUCATION category for the 40. It is not that these structural objectives are not important. What may be disturbing is that by stating these objectives many may believe that we have listed tasks to be done, which is typical in contemporary political discourse. People seem to be absent from the equation.