Our planet is experiencing a climate crisis, and actions from all sectors of society are needed to preserve the planet and secure a future for new generations...
The "Red Planet" has been the subject of human fascination for centuries. The possibility of life on our closest neighbour planet has woven its way through various science fiction movies and books. Mars exploration has been the goal of national space programs for decades. Private American companies have garnered significant attention in recent years for their Mars exploration efforts. One of them is Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson, which plans to send its spacecraft to Mars in addition to its space tourism endeavours. Another prominent player is SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, which has invested heavily in space exploration for years. Musk has also made statements about the potential colonization of Mars, even though current scientific research suggests that Mars lacks many of the necessary conditions for human habitation.
Simultaneously, in what appears to be a parallel universe, our planet is in the midst of a global climate crisis that is impossible to ignore. The consequences of climate change are no longer confined to reports from various organizations; they can be felt firsthand. The past year has starkly illustrated the effects of human activity on the world. Earthquakes in Haiti, wildfires in Greece and California, floods and storms in China, floods in Western Europe, Hurricane Ida, and flooding in the United States are just a few examples of climate-related disasters that occurred in 2021. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced changes to our way of life, we witnessed a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, the rejuvenation of vegetation, and the cleansing of water bodies. However, it was clear that this was a temporary situation, and not all long-standing environmental problems would be resolved. Moreover, there was a noticeable increase in waste due to the widespread use of single-use masks and gloves, panic buying, or home food delivery wrapped in disposable plastics. While global carbon emissions decreased by 5.8% in 2020, they saw a 6% increase in 2021, the most significant absolute increase since 2010. Discouraging statistics reveal that 91% of the world's population lives in areas where air quality exceeds the World Health Organization's guidelines, and 4.2 million people die each year due to the effects of polluted air (in Serbia, an average of 6,600).
As we finally realize that no one is exempt from nature's consequences, sustainability becomes an increasingly important issue for many people, especially in the business world. Addressing sustainability in all industries is a global priority. To prevent the worst climate scenarios, countries around the world committed to the Paris Agreement in 2015, pledging to keep the increase in the average global temperature well below two °C by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels, with an effort to limit it to 1.5°C. In line with the Paris Agreement, a long-term plan for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 was presented in 2018.
However, are these initiatives sufficient, and how much are countries worldwide, including Serbia, truly addressing this complex problem that threatens to fundamentally change our way of life and endanger our survival on this planet? According to the Climate Change Tracker report, which analyzed progress over the past five years, there has been some progress, as the expected increase in temperature by the end of the century has reduced to 2.9°C, compared to 3.6°C in 2015. However, this is still far from the targeted limit. In other words, there is some action, but it is nowhere near as extensive or fast as it needs to be now. This was the main conclusion of the last COP26, which took place in Glasgow last year.
A similar situation can be applied to a lower level, the level of individual companies. In our country, unlike the EU, where sustainability reporting has been mandatory for companies employing more than 500 employees since 2014, compiling such reports was voluntary until last year. However, creating such statements should not be seen merely as a compliance exercise, leaving the message a "dead letter on paper." Instead, it should serve as a foundation for determining further action. However sustainability may seem like a pressing issue, but organizational structures that treat sustainability as a significant business concern remain rare. Raising awareness among individuals and companies is essential because the role of all sectors in the global sustainability agenda is crucial for future generations. The term "triple bottom line" was coined as early as the late 20th century, emphasizing that sustainable businesses should generate profits while being socially responsible and preserving natural resources. Steering a company toward sustainable practices begins with understanding the issues and recognizing the importance of making changes – both for the business and the planet.
Like in any community, in business organizations, change is driven by the top of the hierarchy. Therefore, companies need leaders who can balance the pressure of short-term goals and priorities with long-term objectives focused on improving social and environmental issues. Sustainability requires leaders who can devise approaches, policies, and programs to promote sustainable practices at both the social and organizational levels and integrate sustainable development into the company's strategy and business model. Otherwise, sustainability efforts can diminish and remain without genuine commitment and prioritization. Furthermore, the benefits of sustainable leadership are manifold. Sustainable leadership is a source of competitive advantage, offering organizations opportunities for innovation, continuous improvement, sustainable competitive edge, and long-term success. Sustainable leaders enhance organizational performance by reducing costs and increasing potential revenues, as the market recognizes that these companies pose less risk than others and, accordingly, rewards them. Sustainable leaders adopt a proactive approach by continuously analyzing the environment to monitor external market changes and respond timely to expected challenges. One of the outcomes of such operations is undoubtedly positive marketing. Many companies gain additional market points simply by promoting environmentally and socially responsible products, practices, and brand values.
Another crucial role of sustainable leaders involves employees at all organizational levels. The first rule of basic economics is that people respond to incentives. Investing in employee education about sustainability and creating systems and processes that facilitate the integration of sustainability into their business decisions is of great importance in sustainable leadership. By encouraging employees to generate new ideas actively, they begin to believe that they have a role in the organization, especially when they see the positive impact and economic returns on social and environmental investments in which they participated. At the same time, such companies become the top choice for young professionals who, in addition to financial security, also react to working in an environment that contributes to the community's overall well-being. Despite all the advantages listed earlier, many companies need help implementing sustainable leadership. The reasons are numerous but generally come down to a need for more solid initiative in implementing the necessary changes in culture and business practices. However, with the growing relevance of this issue, positive shifts are becoming evident. And that brings us back to the question: Are current efforts towards sustainable development sufficient to prevent increasingly frequent climate disasters and economic crises? In a world of significant innovations that continually change and improve our lives, it's incredible that the answer to such a question remains uncertain. In any case, what is certain is that each of us will have the opportunity at some point to venture into space and decide to embark on a journey to a neighbouring planet. Who knows, hidden reserves of clean air, which are sorely lacking here, will be found there.