Monday, June 25, 2007

The Dilemma of (un)sustainable growth

There is a lot being said (which, cynically and ironically, one might simply describe as a lot of hot air) about global warming. Yet somehow, although it is on the minds of many individuals here at the College, I'm not sure it has manifested itself with equal force in too many of the courses and programmes we run.

Something I heard on the radio this weekend started a thought in me about this. Our current situation, and ever more evident consequences upon our environment, is as a direct result of not just decades but arguably several centuries of commerce, trade and consumption. The fifty or sixty years of steady growth in wealth (for many), improvements in health (for some) is at the expense not only a great many more people, but also of a finite set of resources. We cannot go on growing forever and while a sustainable model for development might emerge with some political force in the coming years in the developed world, there seems to be almost nothing that can be done to prevent the rapidly developing economies of Asia, South America and the Indian sub-continent doing exactly what Japan, the US and most of Europe has done.

At Henley we have started to look at management as a series of challenges in complexity, especially at the strategic level. But it seems to me that the biggest dilemma of them all will be that in order to achieve (or simply maintain) our comfortable, technologically advanced and (let's be honest) luxurious way of life we must do so at the expense not only of millions of others but also at the cost of the ecological balance that we once lived in symbiosis with (in fact, we were its product). I am an optimist. I truly believe that we will discover ways of tackling this - at least in theory. In practice, this new regard for sustainability will become the only management philosophy worth following.

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