Published by the International Humanistic Management Association (IHMA)
“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Greta Thunberg
Our current era, the Anthropocene, is characterized by humanity’s dramatic impact on Earth’s natural systems. The ‘great acceleration’ in use of fertilizers and consumption and production since the 1950s is now leading to a ‘great collision’ (Gus Speth) between humanity and the world’s ecosystems. As a society we are living beyond Earth’s capacity to reproduce, driven by global population growths and dominant production and consumption patterns, causing depletion of critical resources, and devastating extinction of life-supporting species. For example [population stats and deforestation, ocean acidification, CO2 levels]. Environmental destruction is closely related to inequality, that is, the Earth’s poorest with the least access to health care, philanthropy and technological and technical and resources as well as weak governance will suffer the consequences most. With this acknowledgement comes a moral imperative to support the weakest, however, the consequences of environmental degradation will be felt by all.
Planetary health is fundamental for protecting the wellbeing of all. Planetary health from an IHMA perspective puts dignity and wellbeing in relation to our natural systems we are embedded in and considers sustainable and meaningful livelihoods in which people can thrive. This includes global perspectives but also relates to local communities and neighbourhoods.
IHMA is aware that everything is connected and interdepended, meaning that human-caused disruptions to the planet’s natural system have direct implications for the health and wellbeing of all human and non-human inhabitants of Earth. We acknowledge that Earth nurtures us, but at the same time requires our care. Therefore, human activities causing unacceptable environmental change must be prevented; instead we must preserve and act within the finite planetary boundaries with all its ecological systems, including fertile land, clean oceans and air, and a rich biodiversity of animals and plants (defined my Rocktrom et al 2009). In 2017 Kate Raworth took this concept further by adding a social justice dimension to Rockstrom’s planetary boundaries based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Without being prescriptive, the ‘Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries’ is a useful vision that illustrates a place where humanity can thrive in an environmentally safe and socially just environment. Others, such as Sam Myers, Director of the Planetary Health Alliance, links planetary health to displacement and global conflicts, infectious and non-communicable diseases, and climate change, all with a wide range of implications on people and the planet.
For communities to thrive and be resilient, the global environment with its finite resources must be a common concern of all peoples. Protecting the Earth’s beauty and ensuring it can nurture current and future generations is grounded in a range of concepts and believes: metaphysical (God, sacred and intrinsic value), Aesthetic (Enjoyment, Beauty, Inspiration) and Ethical Foundations (e.g. Ethics of Care, Virtue Ethics, Duties and rights and Consequentialism: weighing up costs and benefits). While some of these concepts might resonate more than others, and the spectrum ranges from light green (anthropogenic) to deep green (Gaia theory, ecocentrism), there is consensus on the plurality of values linked to responsibility, beauty, enlightened egotism, and anxiety about the negative consequences if we continue to destroy our planet. Mike Berners-Lee brought this nicely together when framing the ethical values needed for a sustainable world as “respect and care for the world: its beauty, life supporting complexity and all its life forms.”
What we’d like to see change:
“We need to think about things differently. We need to think towards a health-promoting, health-supporting, and health-sustaining economy within our finite planetary boundaries” Professor Sir Andy Haines
Sustainability as part of Humanistic Management needs collaborative approaches for finding solutions, it needs multidisciplinary research and action, and shared responsibility guided by strong policies and leadership providing clear signals (e.g. taxes, regulations, certifications). Caring for planetary health then means considering ecological systems and future generations as part of social and economic decision-making processes. Actions might need to be implemented context specific, but there are some key areas where we want to see change. This includes how and what we consume, what sort of energy we use, how well we design cities, how well we protect marine and terrestrial areas, how we produce food, how we produce energy, and how we ensure planetary boundaries are considered in any decisions made. For this we draw on existing resources and guidance from thought leaders such as the Earth Charter, Greenpeace, the Economy for the Common Good, the Planetary Health Alliance, Stockholm Resilience and others:
Protect Earth’s biological diversity, for example by protecting and safeguarding biosphere reserves while considering native inhabitants, eradicate harmful genetically modified organisms, use renewable resources at a level they can regenerate and minimize extraction and use of non-renewables (SDG6 Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG7 Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG13 Climate Action, SDG14 Life Below Water, SDG15 Life on Land)
Prevent ecological harm by applying a precautionary approach when knowledge is limited. Decisions need to consider long-term local and global ecological and human consequences. (SDG1 No Poverty, SDG 2 Zero Hunger, SDG16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions)
Adapt sustainable production and consumption patterns that consider planetary boundaries and prioritize dignity and well-being of all systems. Focus on circular economy, re-use and recycling approaches. Support and promote technical innovations that protect the environment for example in urban design and transport (SDG 3 Good health and Wellbeing, SDG11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG12 Responsible Consumption and Production).
Knowledge sharing, collaboration and transparency amongst and between citizens, the corporate and scientific community and policy makers. Educate and moderately influence pro- environmental behavior of employees, customers and wider society though awareness raising, subsidies, incentives, regulatory frameworks and policies. Respect and preserve traditional and spiritual knowledge and wisdom of all cultures that foster environmental protection and human flourishing (SDG 4 Quality Education, SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals).
Assess negative environmental consequences and consider ways to improve positive impact, for example by doing an ECG balance sheet and implementing sustainability management systems. Consider full cost accounting and reporting of any operations taking into account health and wellbeing benefits of wider society and nature. Ensure commercial activities have no disproportionate negative effect on ecosystems.
The current global pandemic of Covid-19 is an opportunity for transformative changes in re-building our society and economy. Instead of a hasty and unelected return to an unsustainable status quo, in a post-Corona world the focus must be on planetary and human dignity and wellbeing, social justice and the common good.
Useful links, resources and inspiration:
Curry, P. (2011). Ecological ethics: An introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Doughnut Economics https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/
Economy for the Common Good: https://www.ecogood.org/en/
National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina https://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/news/leopoldina-advocates-sustainable-approach-tackling-coronavirus-pandemic
Planetary Health Alliance https://www.planetaryhealthalliance.org/mission
Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin III, F. S., Lambin, E., … & Nykvist, B. (2009). Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and society, 14(2).
Stockholm Resilience on transformation and environmental stewardship https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-streames/transformation.html and https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-streames/stewardship.html