Q7: Can we afford sustainability?
If sustainability is understood as the continuation of human life on earth, there is no alternative. Whatever the cost, we have to bear it. But how do we determine the right price to pay right now to ensure survival in the distant future?
Vast reserves of natural gas in Appalachian shale could shift the entire energy market. Indeed, if gas prices fall, the challenge of increasing the use of renewable sources of energy will rise. The head of a private equity firm with major investments in oil and gas exploration discusses the structure of the energy industry and what it means for sustainability efforts.
Relentless population and economic growth is pressuring the systems that support human life. The head of a leading environmental advocacy organization talks about balancing ideals, such as the conservation of natural treasures, with the pragmatic steps and alliances necessary to get the planet on a sustainable path.
The future is not only the domain of economic projections. Writers have long imagined future worlds where life is a totalitarian nightmare, or hubris has led to nuclear or environmental catastrophe. While each dystopia contains unique horrors, the stories often spring from the same well — a feeling that the way we're living now is unsustainable.
Solving problems on the scale of climate change will require that businesses change what they sell and how they operate. The founder of a consulting firm specializing in sustainable business talks about how environmental issues are seen by executives and the business opportunities in sustainability.
From laundry detergent to automobiles, more and more businesses are presenting their products — and themselves — as green. How effective is green marketing? Will it have a meaningful impact on the planet?
Will medical costs in the United States swamp our ability to pay? Can information technology continue to get faster, lighter, and more effective? Will global trade go on increasing and generating wealth? Asking if a system is sustainable forces one to project far into the future — and then to look back at the present from that vantage.
One study in 1997 estimated the value of all the functions performed by ecosystems at $33 trillion per year — substantially more than the entire world economy. But in most instances, functions such as purification of water and air, nutrient cycling in soil, or the resilience created by biodiversity don't have a clear economic value. A number of firms around the world see opportunity in monetizing those functions.
A step as simple as reducing the time that trucks idle can save money and cut emissions. An environmental advocacy group and a private equity firm have teamed up to uncover the sorts of efficiencies that further both of their missions.
Qn looked into the impact of the various formats for presenting the magazine itself. The result? It's complicated.
In an era when it's possible to surf in Phoenix and ski in Dubai, places are becoming interchangeable. Even areas with stunning natural resources can find themselves under pressure from this flattening effect. For communities, sustainability might mean strengthening their distinctive characteristics.
Read all articles about sustainability.