<Jan Jonker, Chair Sustainable Entrepreneurship
Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University, Nijmegen (NL)>
Dear ladies and gentlemen...
it is a great honour for me to deliver the Sustainable Throne Speech today.
This is the eighth edition and, today is also the 22nd edition of the National Sustainable Tuesday.
For me, this speech is special because I see it as my farewell speech as professor of Sustainable Entrepreneurship at Radboud University.
From this chair, many wise words have already been spoken in recent years...
about the different sides of sustainability, and the fundamental changes in policy and organisations that are necessary to support those activities.
Which makes it relevant to ask to what extent we have really made changes towards a more sustainable society and economy.
The past few months have been marked by great uncertainty, unrest and grief.
With unprecedented measures, the government has tried to curb the COVID-19 pandemic while providing care in various areas that was and still is urgently needed.
Many people have shown unprecedented and courageous commitment which deserves more than just applause.We have also learned to appreciate indispensable professions that turned out to be socially crucial.
In this crisis, our government has had to face unprecedented uncertainties and diabolical dilemmas, which it has tried to address as they presented themselves.
Despite all the pain, worry and sadness in our society we managed to transform,
more or less overnight from a society 'as usual' to one focused on society-wide disaster relief.
These recent experiences show that our socioeconomic system has a much shorter life span than we thought possible. Our interdependence
has also become visible in the available social and institutional capital in our society.
All of this has made us aware of the sheer vulnerability of our society. If you add to this the issues already mentioned here such as ecological erosion, pollution and unacceptable social inequality and those are only three of many themes...
it becomes clear that we have recently uncovered a number of flaws in our society. But will we really use this as a basis for organising things differently?
We now have the opportunity to make new choices no matter how difficult, especially with elections ahead.
Or will we allow ourselves to get into wars over water, sand and climate in addition to conflicts about food, the right to social mobility the right to education, and not to mention the right to care?
But what is the way forward? Should we simply redistribute wealth? Should we value crucial professions more, and if so, how? Or is it about something much more fundamental? Because the crisis also shows that the ubiquitous market thinking is apparently the universal basis and solution for virtually all social and economic issues.
Therefore, the question arises whether this dominant market thinking is still appropriate today. Whether this thinking still has a future. Or do we mainly want to use the lavishly provided billions in government support to return to where we were before?
We may be at a crossroads, unintentionally. The pandemic, painful as it may be, could be a blessing in disguise.
Over the past few months, many have called for fundamental change. Let us not allow this moment, this momentum, to go unused.
We must organise in such a way that it increases the social, ecological and economic resilience and flexibility of our society.
In my view, this means giving new meaning to value and the valuation of it.
This raises the question which fundamental changes which organisational transitions we need to facilitate a sustainable society.
After all, we live in a society of organisations. Nearly everything we are, do and don't do is related to our ability to organise and be part of these organisations.
This organising generates products, services, status, income infrastructure, safety nets and many other things besides. In fact, in our society as we know it we cannot exist without the organisations we have created ourselves.
But working on actual transitions does call the existing state of affairs into question.
After all, our collective economic thinking is essentially market-driven not only when it concerns 'the' economy, but also in all other policy sectors such as education, culture, healthcare and last but certainly not least: nature.
And we have now seen what it means if these sectors are systematically downsized by us as a result of this market thinking.
A thinking based on a fossil energy system which is almost impossible to break free from.
An economy based on obsolescence which means buying, using minimally and disposing as quickly as possible as a curious and highest possible form of happiness and the creation of prosperity.
An economy that is ever more rapidly eating into our earth's precious reserves for which we do not pay the real price.
In the name of the economy, we are attacking nature with a chainsaw and will have to face the consequences.
This is a rather crude description of the linear economy which we have perfected over the past fifty years and which has brought us tremendous prosperity but at the expense of many values.
When we look at the social and ecological impact, the inevitable conclusion is that market thinking is dangerously outdated in everything we do.
We must let go of our obsession with economic growth, and rearrange it such that it will protect our community, climate and natural resources.
Even if that means less, no, or even negative economic growth.
It is downright naive to think that we can rely on technology alone to solve the problems we face.
In short: We urgently need a different socioeconomic value orientation.
In my view, what is central to this is the rethinking and reshaping of the concept of community.
The challenge is to change the way we organise in order to put the values of the community centre stage again.
This observation reveals a paradox: Our society needs organisations but our current way of organising detaches us from collective values.
We continuously and solemnly talk and write about what we think is important but this is not translated into rules for what organisations really do in their institutional embedding.
Despite the best intentions and a lot of sympathy many sustainability efforts
in organisations currently only yield a marginal and suboptimal result.
Therefore, we need a different perspective to consistently work
on a different institutional system.
The current organisation-centric perspective should make way for collective organising, an organisational ecology.
At the same time, we have to move from a recycling-oriented economy to an economy in which circularity, restoration of biodiversity and social inclusivity are guiding principles.
This development can be tentatively seen in the organisation of material cycles for the circular economy. But well-intended though they may be, those are really only first steps.
Taking this further, actually doing this, requires transition, fundamental changes: in our values, our thinking and our organising.
The question is which mechanisms will be able to shape these necessary transitions in the next ten years.
I propose to focus on a combination of the following seven transition mechanisms. Some of these we have already explored, but hardly used and certainly not in combination with each other.
One: Shift the taxation of labour to the taxation of the use of raw materials, emissions and pollution while systematically reducing the fiscal privileging of the use of fossil resources in industry and services.
Two: Let us decisively reform the tax system based on value retention and no longer on depreciation. And incorporate the value of social and ecological capital in accounting principles and rules.
Three: In this decade, work towards real prices based on the incorporation of integral costs such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, toxicity or a living wage. The externalisation of these costs must stop despite the major economic impact this will have.
Four: Provide much more scope for the organisation by citizens, companies and the government, of collectives for, among other things, food, energy and mobility. And, most importantly, provide appropriate legal embedding for this and a structural, stable fiscal stimulus.
Five: Gradually make producers responsible, step by step for the complete, circular life cycle of their product and combine this with servitisation, longer warranty periods, container deposits and cashback mechanisms, such as return-of-premium systems.
Six: Tax wealth and not labour, and level economic inequality partly through a higher capital gains tax. This will stimulate generational solidarity. Support this with a universal basic income. If you ask me, in the Netherlands, economic inequality is a rather neglected theme.
Seven: Invest in the phasing out of companies that do not contribute to social and environmental values by pricing and taxing them.
These mechanisms in fact constitute one big plea for investment in sustainability-based transitions.
Interpretation and implementation will lead to job losses in conventional sectors. But is that a problem? After all, new sectors based on new business models will create new jobs.
If we have the courage to decisively implement the proposed transitions and if we succeed, a society will emerge, not of less but of more: more resilience, more health, more clean air and more equality.
In realising this, we have to be able to rely on government leadership that is stable and consistent. This means that we expect them to work tirelessly towards a dot on the horizon one government after the other, no matter their political affiliation.
This also requires transitional leadership from occupations, such as accountants’ bankers and contractors. Many of these groups will have to go through their own transition first.
Transition also requires new leadership from citizens. For instance, by being part of new enterprising forms of collectivity. Community-based business models could offer a valuable perspective here.
But do we as a country currently have the knowledge and skills to deal with transitions expertly and effectively? Fundamental and applied knowledge institutes is dangerously modest. Focusing on combining and expanding this knowledge should be given high priority.
The transition to a different socioeconomic system could start today, if we wish. It is not magically predicted, but we imagine and organise it together.
The future demands a society based on sustainability human dignity and biodiversity. It can only be developed as we go along, and will have to be continuously adjusted.
The danger that looms is that the desire for the old may well be stronger than the appreciation and systematic investment that the new demands.
It would be advisable if the politically dominant neoliberalism will not be reaffirmed in the coming elections but that we emphatically and consciously opt for a different perspective.
In the coming elections, any political party that does not programmatically focus on the aforementioned specific domains where transitions are necessary such as sustainability, biodiversity, circularity and social inclusion should not get any votes.
The axiom that we must get the economy back in order before we can work on sustainability is dangerous and misleading and ultimately only makes us fall behind.
The Netherlands should internationally promote the development of a social and institutional level playing field so that smart solutions, of which we have many can be rolled out at the appropriate scale from the start.
To move forward together faster, Europe embodies the best option we have.
Despite its institutional and cultural complexity, it provides hope for a system of and for everyone.
Often, companies by making promises of even more plans, projects and research will maintain the status quo as long as possible albeit with a nice 'green lining'. After all, they rarely have an interest in radical change.
Directly and indirectly placing the leading role on citizens is noble and worth striving for.
But the question is whether this approach has sufficient scope, power and impact as long as it is based on individual non-committalism and often consumerism.
Without advocating any form of totalitarianism, we must expect substantially more effort from the government on this very issue.
It is highly commendable that the Dutch NGO Urgenda is using legal means to force the government to take responsibility but that should not really be happening.
A stable, national ten-year transition plan, which we already have for our dikes could offer a very strong starting point.
Such a plan requires a relevant annual budget a matching official infrastructure,
and a stable institutional framework.
In addition, we could consider to give parliament more power to oblige and sanction a government if it fails to fulfil the stipulated transition promises. Finally, an effective focus on transitions requires a more tolerant and modest approach to societal engineering.
After all, there are no easy solutions or blueprints with a guaranteed outcome. Transitions are difficult, complex, uncertain, uncomfortable and painful. And yes, there are winners and losers.
In the end, it is about deploying new values to collectively reorganise.
And in all of this, we humans are just passers-by on this planet. A planet we must cherish, look after and restore with the utmost care so that the next generations
can still live and love.
Thank you for your attention.
Link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljxT2IjVCc8&feature=youtu.be
Blog Supervision by Tjeerd de Vries