Sustainability and profits in a global situation

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Just as profitability is in importance to a firm, resources used in the generation of that profit should be adequately recognized. This report was done argued out using the critical theorist's views on the imperativeness of the discourse of sustainable development. Clear illustrations of a number of schools of thoughts influence on the global policy making guiding corporations on how to approach sustainability were highlighted; addressing the importance of the integration of the concept of profitability with environmental, social and economic issues, which is what sustainable discourse, revolves around. Nonetheless, the idealist Supranationalists believe in the integration of environment and the developmental issues.

However, emphasis was placed on the capitalist way of production as a booster to globalisation, which going by the critical theory is the major cause of environmental degradation as a result of over reliance on natural resource, thereby leaving human footprints in every sector ventured into. However, suggestions that will lead to lasting solutions and also endure the test of a sustained environment were proposed. New and clean technologies like the nanotechnology, biomimicry, and their likes were extensively discussed. Renewable technologies that form the framework to which the next generation can rely on are also highlighted.

However, it should be glaring at this point that the discourse of global sustainability is emergent in character, multi dimensional and complex. Therefore, majority of multinational corporations are vulnerable to severe portfolio imbalance and a lot of missed opportunities are envisaged, if these organisations are allowed to continue with the degradation of the environment. Nevertheless, very few companies have stated to harness and exploit the various opportunities sustainable development has to offer.

In conclusion, for sustainable development to be achieved globally the influence and dominance of developed countries over their developing counterparts should be positive; in that these countries should be assisted in formulating strategies as well as developing policies that will make the world an inhabitable place for all and sundry now and in the nearest future.


The world as we know it has a population of over 6billion people, and the United Nations (UN) estimates this figures to reach up to 10.5billion people by 2050. Therefore, the issue at hand is to conceptualise how reckless or careful the present generation is in harnessing earth's natural resources, taking the future into consideration. The UN Brundtland commission in its report of 1987 came up with the term sustainable development, and defined it as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." However, Sustainability as a discourse before then has always been misunderstood by stakeholders; who have different notions about it. Besides, some captains of industries and of multinational corporations in the past have been quoted to define sustainability as running business in accordance to accepted principles.

Nevertheless, sustainable development in a holistic way integrates the social life of the human race, the world economy and the environment. Even though the weight of the meaning of this concept is still contested by stakeholders and corporations world over, "perspectives from critical theory, supplemented by Foucauldian concepts, expose the role of power and hegemony in that contestation." Springett (2003). In my opinion, this is as a result of what the world is now, where corporations rule the world. These corporations that take so much from the eco system must learn how to give back positively to it. There are concerns about soaring population growth, Globalisation, rapid urbanisation etc, all contesting for the increasingly scarce resources, such as energy, water and raw materials. While undermining the adverse effects of issues; like deforestation, ozone layer depletion and so on due to activities of industrialisation on the immediate environment.

As a matter of fact, the brundtland report arrived at a time challenges were posed to policy making at every level by the economic downturn of the late seventies, droughts in Africa, oil shock, concerns about tropical forest as an aftermath of depletion of resources, and the depletion of the ozone layer among others. "The main long-term impact of the report is that we can no longer talk of economic and environmental policy in separate compartments." Springett (2003). Besides, questions have been asked in recent times if it is possible to live today without borrowing from the future. The discourse of sustainability has now been made clearer with the use of the "three bottom line" (TBL) approach, which does not only focus on profitability but integrates it with the pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity. This is in a bid to distinguish the discourse of "Sustainable development" and "Green development". While the later focuses on the issues considered being environmental sustainably over cultural and economic considerations, the former combines environmental, economic and social discursive using the TBL approach as its pivot.






Furthermore, Advocates of Sustainable Development argue that it presents a framework towards the general improvement of sustainability where "cutting edge" Green development is not feasible. For example, a cutting edge solar plant with tremendously high costs of maintenance may be unsustainable in some parts of the world with lesser financial power.


My research arguments are supported by my experience while growing up in Nigeria, where 80% of the big companies which may include a reasonable part of multinational oil firms, are only after the profit. Whatever happened to social responsibility and sustainability issues, have been very unclear to me until I started this research. I will also argue from the angle of the critical theorists, who believes the discourse of sustainability should be treated with more regard by multinational corporations, industries and institutions in the capitalist economies.

While a Capitalist economy encourages globalisation, globalisation on the other hand gradually eats up the environmental resources if an organisation focuses on profitability and survival with recourse to the environment and society that it has taken so much from. However, to buttress the little understanding I have of sustainability discourse before I took interest in the topic, a lot of academic journals, online resources, reports and works of notable academics, theorists and philosophers were adapted and read to make for a better understanding of the discourse.


In the course of my research, I have become more opinionated and as such can argue that the various schools of thought all have different standpoints of the future. Various concepts and theories were studied, but my analysis will be based on three of these theories that interest me the most. However, with reservations, my support still is for critical theory. Gupta (2002) argued from the idealistic supranationlists point of view that, "in order to deal with global environment and developmental problems, a body high up in hierarchy needs to be established" with particular reference to the UN. This might work in some aspects, but what hierarchy does is simple; realisation of the next level of fulfilment cannot be achieved until the last which is the higher level is fulfilled. What happens if we have to deal with sustainability issues hierarchically, sorting them one after another according to how important they are? This will put a lot of stringent measures and control on sustainability discourse, by leaving flexibility out of the context thereby making more difficult the level of its understanding by the corporate world.

The social constructivists on the other hand dispute this claim by arguing that "the study of human consciousness and its influence on policy making should be left un attended to". This I partially support, because human awareness of his or her environment through discourses, interaction and communication are key factors to be considered in manipulating international policy making decisions. Notwithstanding, "such communicative processes influence the determination of national interests by creating a shared understanding and structures that can both constrain and enable choices" Gupta (2002). I would rather be a free spirit, teaching my mind what has to be done than be captive to a super imposing hierarchical structural system.

Nevertheless, sustainable development from the critical theorists' point of view is targeted at the capitalist means of production as the major cause of global problems, thereby institutionalising the discourse of sustainability. Springett (2003) argues that "the intensification of the global crisis that led to the coining of 'sustainable development' mirrors the growing power of the capitalist economy and its colonisation of the globe through massive increases in world trade". The capitalist system of production through technology and commerce has made the world a global village; but sadly, this development have not been evenly distributed probably due to "hegemony" where the superpowers of the world have dominated the scene. For example, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre (WTC) in the United States of America in 2001 reveals clearly the interconnection between nations of the world and their economy's. Hart and Milstein (2003) argued that "saturation in the developed markets, a widening gap between the rich and the poor, growing levels of environmental degradation, and concern that the developing world maybe losing control over its own destiny have combined to create a drag in the global economy".

Furthermore, I have come to realise that multinational corporations, institutions and enterprise are at the fore front of environmental degradation. They do this directly or indirectly through their various forms of policy and decision making strategies, sourcing for raw materials, managing recourses and handling waste disposal among other activities they perform in a bid to survive and profitable at all cost. Nonetheless, "the most important endowment we can pass onto the future generations is capital stock, level of technology and those things that make for a better quality of life in material and environmental terms" springett (2003). Therefore, "a sustainable enterprise is one that contributes to sustainable development by delivering simultaneously economic, social and environmental benefits". Hart and Milstein (2003). Through its policy and decision making strategies, coupled with its "modus operandi".


There have been misconceptions about sustainability and as a matter of fact, the idea that sustainability means survival or viability in some quarters is responsible for the degradation of our dear environment and the destruction of our natural habitats. A look at the picture below highlights the extent to which organisations can go to make profit.

FIGURE 2: Deforestation of native rain forest in Rio de Janeiro City for extraction of clay for civil engineering (2009 picture)

Source: Wikipedia (

An imagination of how much oxygen was wipe out on this surface came to mind when i viewed this picture. How much clay could have been needed that made construction company do this; destroying natural habitat and environment for natural resources without replanting the trees. See figure 3 for yet another example in highlighted in a picture showing burning of the forest for charcoal trade in Congo.

FIGURE 3: Congo Gorilla Killings Fuelled by Illegal Charcoal Trade

Source: National Geographic (

The above illustrates forest burning in Congo fuelled by illegal charcoal export. They kill gorillas that live there as their natural habitat in the process, by shooting them dead if they pose treat or either burning them alongside the woods for bush meat. The last picture in this least was a shot from the Niger delta region of Nigeria, see figure 4; where the locals have been tag to be living on oil. Over the past 4 to 5 decades, communities that once thrive with farm produce, fishing and exportation of palm produce have been left to hang in the balance due to activities of oil companies like Royal Dutch shell corporation, Agip, ExxonMobil and their likes.

FIGURE 4: Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta


Environmental degradation, gas flaring, water and land pollution are the order of the day, and to crown it all, these communities have been left with the danger of an acid rainfall. While the people are being robbed of natural water and fresh air from the woods having being burnt down as a result of oil spillage, oil companies are feeding fat on profitability.

Springett (2003) cited Jacobs (1991) "but exploration of what this means tends to unearth examples of environmental management and stakeholder engagement that do not address issues of economic policy-making, equity and the questioning of 'growth', nor of the power and hegemony that confine the debate."


Few companies in the recent past have recognised the opportunities imbedded in formulating strategies and policies to guide their decision making process using sustainability discourse as framework. While some captains of industries on the contrary thinks shareholder value and profitability may have to be sacrificed to favour sustainable development and the environment. Creating sustainable value for an organisation is "as viewed through the lenses of business, can help to identify strategies and practises that contribute to a more sustainable world and simultaneously drive shareholder value" Hart and Milstein (2003); thereby providing solution to global challenges linked with sustainability. Theses set of individuals see the term "sustainable development" as a political cover up for ambiguous and unethical corporate procedures that are unacceptable. As far as am concerned, sustainability can become central to an organisations strategic and policy by doing the old things the new way, as well as doing the very new things in newer ways.

Furthermore, there are a lot of multinational companies out there whose production and continuous existence are still heavily based and dependent on natural resources, fossil fuels and toxic materials that are harmful and dangerous to the immediate environment. However, with new and safer technologies like biomimicry, genomics and nanotechnology among other new energy renewable technologies out there; theses firms who rely heavily on natural resources can learn from this same environment instead of destroying the natural habitat of brilliant creatures, plants and organisms that are faced with extinction. Hence, firms can strive to find lasting solution for environmental and social problems by acquiring and exploring new clean technologies that clearly takes care of sustainability challenges adequately. This is due to the fact that "the search for clean technologies is central to a firm's effort to reposition its internal skill set for the development and exploitation of future markets" Hart and Milstein (2003). At this junction, I recommend a must see video clip via the link provided , it highlights the attributes of biomimicry and nanotechnology by discussing and analysing vital issues the world seem to have have forgotten about, that we are part of a complex and brilliant planet inhabited by exceptional organisms and animals that gets so much from minimal materials available to them. It sets a reminder on how much we can learn from these geniuses by mere studying them, rather than destroy them or their natural habitats due to resources exploration. Besides these, it also shows how some smart companies have been able to use these new cutting edge technologies to change their strategies and thereby facilitate profitability and efficiency without harming the environment and society, but rather by learning from nature.

In addition, the activities of majority of these companies pose dangerous threats to the continuous existence of humans. For example, the gas flaring of the Niger delta region of Nigeria, oil spillage in the United States of America, deforestation in Brazil are all hazardous to human existence. While new clean technologies like bio and nanotechnology have the potentials to completely eradicate pollution and waste, biomimicry on other end can reduce heavy reliant on raw materials from nature by emulating natures process and not destroying them. Besides, "man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations." Mert (2009). The finite nature of some resources must be note here.

However, some multinational corporations for example are already investing into the future by viewing sustainability as business opportunity. This they have done through venturing into alternative safer businesses that will sustain them later on. Shell for instance is taking giant strides with investments in wind, solar and several renewable technologies that hopefully will definitely replace oil and petroleum production at some point in the future. Toyota already launched what it referred to as hybrid system powered vehicles as well as their fuel cell vehicles which are going to cut down fuel use and efficiency respectively.


The discourse of sustainable development is imperative because the existence of the future generation is at stake. With world population now on the brink of hitting 7 billion people out of which over 4 billion of these people live on less than $1500 per year Hart and Milstein (2003). This amount according to represents the minimum income needed in order to avoid deprivation. Therefore, wealth creation and social development among the poorest people of the world are very crucial to sustainable development.

Nevertheless, value should and can be created by firms at very high level of responsiveness and transparency in developing new clean technologies that can ultimately reduce human footprints on the planet earth. Finally, since value is created by satisfying the customer, companies can create more value by designing and innovating products that are most needed by the over 4 billion people who live on below $1500 a year. As such, migration from the rural to the urban areas will be reduced.