Sustainability: more than long-term positive development
You are no doubt aware that the term “sustainability” can have different meanings. This is worth thinking about, especially since it has been used for years by so many people that its real meaning has been lost, becoming overstretched and cliched, almost empty phrase. It's about much more than just positive long-term development.
But first back to Covid-19: the pandemic has taught us that our social and economic system is very vulnerable. The key words in this situation are adaptation and resilience. The term “adaptation” (from the Latin ad aptare - “to adapt”) describes a short-term return to the initial situation (if possible) – i.e., self-regulation. We have introduced new rules for living together and have almost got used to them. It seemed like we had got there in the summer, with the “Neistart” state aid plan intended to restore the old “normal”: an economy geared towards continuous growth. Then came the second wave.
However, adaptation is just the process of adjusting to changed conditions, not proactive behaviour. The term is also familiar from the climate crisis and is differentiated from “mitigation” (from the Latin mitigatio - “to mitigate”). It refers to the active reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Economic Resilience: a new measure of societal valuation
The term “resilience” (from the Latin resilire - “to jump back, bounce back”) is also familiar from the climate debate. It refers to the ability of an ecosystem to return to its original state after a disruption. Very topically, it also describes the psychological resilience and inner strength of people and societies to cope with external disruptions.
Many people feel powerless in this situation. Although they know what to do in the short term, they are unable to change their behaviour in such a way that the multitude of crises (including the dramatic loss of biodiversity, in addition to Covid and the climate crisis) can be resolved through a joint effort.
When a report by the “Observatoire de la compétitivité” was published recently, Minister of the Economy Franz Fayot emphasized that, in light of Covid-19, indicators of competitiveness should be replaced by indicators of resilience. He was referring to statistics suggesting that the least vulnerable countries are those with good healthcare systems, favourable labour market conditions with less precarity amongst employees and self-employed people, and increased ability to work from home. Luxembourg did very well in this respect.
He spoke of economic resilience and has already emphasized how important a sustainable economy is. In relation to the aforementioned crises, sustainability must also be seen in social and environmental terms. This concept describes a way of using a natural system capable of regenerating so that its essential properties are preserved and its population can grow back naturally. If this is taken seriously, then there must be no return to what was “normal” before the lockdown. With its highly efficient global supply chains that were built with no regard for ecological and social minimum standards, our economic system is destroying our future.
So we know what must be done. And we can do it, too, because the building blocks have long been in place.