Man’s ingenuity and creativeness have enabled many to attain prosperity, better standard of living, and greater comfort in life and but the anthropocentric focus in man’s activities is posing the biggest threat to Earth’s sustainability. This threat is systemically driven by multifaceted factors interlocked in complex non-linear relationships. One problem creates others, which in turn create more problems in domino effect, often with devastating synergistic effects on others.

The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions in England in the 18th/19th century triggered man’s assault on earth and its natural processes. The Agricultural Revolution transformed agricultural practices. It became intensified. Crops were diversified. Yields improved. Livestock replaced human labour. Man was better nourished, health improved. Rapid population growth resulted. The Industrial Revolutions were the next turning points. They continued to sustain unprecedented growth in income and population. Technological advances revolutionised manufacturing, starting with new steel making processes, mass-production, assembly lines and machineries for large-scale manufacturing.

The rapid growth in population, urbanisation and economies forced man to clear forest for more land to cater for man’s needs for food, shelter and other activities. Industry, commerce, transportation and households burn fossil fuels for energy extensively, releasing pollutants and green house gases into the atmosphere to cause global warming, climate change and acidification of the oceans. The relentless demand for goods and services pushes mining industry to strips huge stretches of land to extract raw materials at accelerated pace. They leave behind voluminous tailings hazardous to health. Fertilisers boost crop yields but their prolonged and excessive applications acidify the soil. Overuse of agricultural fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides upsets nature’s ecobalance. Herbicides and insecticides control crop diseases and pests but they also contaminate water sources and kill pollinators. The massive wastes from industries and cities foul the air, water and soil. The list can continue.

We have reached a point of concern. Biodiversity crisis and global warming are warnings, among others, that earth is feeling the severe strain from man’s relentless assaults on the environment and sustainability on earth is at risk.

Life on earth is remarkably diverse. Species extinction rates are often used to measure loss of diversity caused by the destruction of natural habitats. Palaeontologists identify five periods of mass extinctions in the geologically-short past of 540 million years. The Earth lost more than three-quarters of its species during each of these periods. We have yet to cross the 75% threshold of mass extinction but the extinction rate of the estimated 8.7 million species on earth, excluding bacteria, is increasing. The current rate of species extinctions is 10 times worse than previously thought . Biologists warn that a sixth mass extinction may be on the way within the next 600 years if the rate of species losses continue to escalate from the rate over the past few centuries and millennia. As the extinction rate increases, our ecosystems will be thrown into chaos, jeopardizing life on earth including man!


Is the biodiversity crisis that critical?

Conservation projects have resuscitated species under severe threat of extinction. This gives hope that conserving what is left can prevent further deterioration in diversity. However we must recognise that species do adapt to changing environment. They evolve or speciate into new and distinct species. The speciation rate is found to be surprisingly close to, or greater than, extinction rate, meaning that the total number of species on Earth could be holding steady or slightly increasing . This finding makes the loss of diversity a weak argument but the imbalance in bio-diversity caused by human activities remains the critical issue. This is aggravated by the spread of invasive species and diseases through deforestation, hunting, overfishing and other human activities.

Global surface temperature does vary within a band. A study reconstructed earth’s temperature over the past 2,000 years and concluded that human-driven climate change has pushed the temperature variation beyond the natural range. The temperature is nudging close to the +2°C degree threshold that can trigger severe global warming, climatic change and further loss of biodiversity .


Is there hope?

The challenges are multifaceted from many fronts. The intent of this article is to sow the seeds to re-imagine ideas to revitalise sustainability creatively. Sustainability is so complex that it is beyond the scope of this short article to capture all of its intricacies. This is best treated as an introduction and the work is in progress.

4 METAPHORS FOR A BETTER 3Ps + 1P (People, Planet, Prosperity and Purpose)

The compelling reason why man should be concerned with sustainability is obvious. When man destroys the very environment which sustains life, man is threatening his own existence. The survival of humanity depends on how man cares for the society and the environment. For man to live in a hospitable and wonderful environment, he needs to adopt of a new ethic to care for human civilisation, the society and its environment. He needs to prosper to enjoy the comforts of life. This unfortunately is counterintuitive to man who has been exploiting the society, the economy and the environment.

I will use four metaphors to help crystallise the mindset required to re-imagine sustainability. We need to integrate initiatives in the three areas of environment, economy and society to achieve the 3Ps – caring PEOPLE, a sustainable Planet, long term Prosperity – by binding them together with a compelling Purpose to create a sustainable future.
These metaphors are


“Sustainability” is an idealistic goal to maintain the ability of the environment to perform and sustain life at a certain level for as long as desired.
An idealistic goal demands an idealistic approach to sustainability. Sustainability is challenged by multifaceted factors that are interconnected from the environment, economic, legal, social cultural, technological and political fronts. These range from international and national laws, urban developments, transport infrastructures, trades and supply chain management to local culture, lifestyles and consumerism. These factors act in concert, often to frustrate man’s efforts to reduce environmental degradation, poverty, uneven population growth, climate change, overconsumption and relentless pursuit of economic growth. To move sustainable developments forward, we may need to make compromises. Even with the best of intentions, such compromises not only render development efforts to be less than perfect. They also result in unintended consequences.

Sustainable developments are best considered as attempts to create temporal incremental processes that can bring us to the endpoint of sustainability. The aims are to develop systems that will not deplete available resources faster than the ability of their environment to reproduce or restore and to create a healthy balance for human civilisation to coexist with the carrying capacity of the environment and biosphere. A healthy attitude is to treat the balance as temporal. This will encourage persistent efforts to improve sustainability efforts on resources exploitation, investment, technological developments, and more importantly changing societal aspirations to match both current and future needs.
We must DO THE RIGHT THINGS – not just to DO THINGS RIGHT. This metaphor is adapted from an adage by management guru Peter Drucker. Doing the right thing is to be strategically effective to attain sustainability. Doing thing right is to be operationally efficient in developing sustainable system with sustainability as the end in mind. The tracks to effectiveness and efficiency must be in synch.

To do right thing is to achieve ‘sustainability” or human-ecosystem equilibrium. This balance is not static but dynamic. It shifts as conditions changes. To do things right in sustainable developments is to manage unintended consequences resulting from the compromises in developing sustainable systems, and to improve the efficiency of such systems in response to changing conditions. Changing conditions present different opportunities and challenges. The sustainability developments that meet the needs of the present generation may not meet the needs of future generations. This is why past “best practices” had fail.

To do things right with our sustainability developments is to re-frame them regularly in response to the different challenges arising from changing conditions. This will demand persistency and creativity to swing the scale back towards restoration and sustainability. Doing things right is to MANAGE sustainability – not to “solve” it. This demands persistency in monitoring of progress, anticipating the potential impacts of changing trends and taking corrective actions. This will demand thinking and planning with the future in mind. Failing to think of the future means thinking to fail in future!

Sustainable developments are best approached with multi-disciplinary perspectives to address their multi-faceted challenges. Existing approaches range from reorganizing living conditions (e.g. sustainable architecture and cities and eco-communities) and reappraising economic sectors (permaculture, sustainable agriculture. green based economies) to developing new technologies (green technologies, renewable and sustainable energy) and adopting life-styles that conserve natural resources. Singular approach to address each issue in isolation will be exercise in futility. It stands out as unkempt hair that needs combing into place. Other challenges on sustainability can negate its efficiency. At best, it can provide temporary relief to symptomatic pains but the root causes remain. We need to look beyond the issues to find systemic multi-pronged approaches.

The burning questions in economic or business decisions for long term sustainability broaches on whether profits should be maximised by running the company or economy to the ground or whether reasonable profits be maintained over the longer run; whether surplus profits/reserves should be set aside to re-structure the business or economy and to cushion unexpected setbacks.

Resilient businesses are built on strong financial reserves that are capable of weathering financial surprises. They retain profits for re-structuring. They retain profits for plants and equipments improvement to achieve higher efficiency, assets replacements and business expansion. They reduce the need for external borrowings thus lowering financing charges.

“Modern Monetary Theory” is touted as a solution for government to pay its bills by printing money. Such economic policy had ended in disasters. The Romans in the 3rd century tried making coins with higher and higher denominations to pay its bills. The denarius fell to a fraction of its original value. The Japanese government issued a restricted currency for using in their occupied territories of Singapore, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei from 1942 to 1945. It was called banana money after its banana trees motif. Japan printed more and more notes to supply money to the territories. This caused hyperinflation as the notes suffered severe depreciation in value. When Japan surrendered, the notes were not worth the paper it was printed on. My father burned sacks of them.

The right policy for governments is not to rely solely on the printing press to create money but to keep their economic and financial affairs in order. The printing press works best only when extreme caution and discretion are exercised. When market lost confidence in the currency, it will be severely devalued. Printing-press financing is not doing it right.
Americans throw away some 500 million plastic straws each day. Starbucks’ decision to stop using plastic straws to be a “meaningful action to protect our oceans” was laudable. But their decision to replace straws with plastic with sipping lids negated the effort. They are replacing one plastic waste with another. “Green washing” one’s effort is not right.

Economies and businesses need right policies to balance short-term gains with long-term prosperity. They need to do the right thing right.


To save the forest, think beyond the trees

The second metaphor is that “TO SAVE THE FORESTS, THINK BEYOND THE TREES.”

Environmental degradation is the depletion of Earth’s natural resources caused by socioeconomic, technological and institutional activities. These resources include water, air, minerals and soil. The causes of environmental degradation ranges from rapid population growth that requires more land for habitat, industry and infrastructure; urbanization that increases demand for water and other resources; intensive agriculture that sustains the growing population; increasing use of fossil fuels for energy to support people, commerce and industry; expanding transportation infrastructures for cater for industry, commerce and population.

When we destroy part of a forest, we destroy not only the trees. We destroy both the bio-diversity and balance in the natural eco-systems. We destroy its capacity to remove and store carbon. We diminish its capacity to convert carbon dioxide in the air into oxygen and its capacity to refresh the air by absorbing odours and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulphur dioxide and ozone) and by filtering and trapping dust particulates with their leaves and bark. Re-planting will not restore the forest to its original state immediately as young trees are less efficient as carbon-rich primary ecosystems in primary forests. However, low-intensity wildfires do help to burn up plant debris and dead trees, making way for young trees and vegetation to thrive. The new growth in turn supports forest wildlife.

In this light, is the call to stop assaulting forests and to leave forests alone alarmist in nature? Is the call viable?

The United Nations estimates the world’s population to grow from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 9.7 billion by 2050. Anthropocentricity has separated man from the environment. It justifies the exploitation of environment to meet human need. Rapid population growth will exert pressure for more land and resources, placing sustainability at greater risk. To address environmental degradation, we urgently need to re-imagine how to create robust and viable approaches that will shift the role for man from being an adversarial exploiter or intruder of the environment to be a caring steward who will look after the environment and lives harmoniously with nature. This new role will shift man’s responsibility to balance present demand on the environment with the future demand for a sustainable environment.

The huge raging fire in the remote part of the vast Amazon rainforest can be an interesting case. The farmers accused the Brazilian agencies for failing to provide support. Their survival instinct ignored the global outcry over environmental degradation. They took things into their own hands and cleared the forest to plant crops and to rear livestock. Land-grabbing in the Amazon basin by farmers, ranchers or loggers has been a long standing issue and a source of conflict with indigenous tribes. The fire demands answers on why Brazilian government agencies fail to address the issues of land grabbing, deforestation and welfare of the “affected” farmers and indigenous tribes.

The Amazon fire raises a string of questions too. Is it morally right for Brazil to clear forest to become the top meat producing and exporting country? Perhaps this would explain why authorities turned a blind eye on deforestation and land grabbing. Who to blame for the deforestation? Is it morally wrong for Brazil to burn their forest to feed the world? Or is it morally wrong for the buyers to import food from countries that destroy their forest?? Will it be morally more wrong to let importing countries face starvation? Will stopping Brazil from burning their forest stop deforestation? The Amazon forest may be spared but forests will be cleared elsewhere to grow crop and rear livestock to cover the supply. Now that the harm has been done, will it be better for the world to let Brazil enjoy the economy of scale? Or will the world be better off with diseconomies of scale with smaller farms? The latter will result in greater deforestation. It is easy to blame others but difficult to manage the issue.


It’s a Man’s Choice

Man has the choice to continue degrading environment or to exercise more care on the environment. The string of questions from above highlights the limitations of dogmatic approaches focusing on specific issue. We need to be less responsive to sound bites of the moments. Such approaches can compound the problems of sustainability. The rapidly growing population demands comprehensive multi-prong approaches that focuses on removing the root causes of unsustainability. There is an urgent need to re-imagine systemic sustainable approaches to allocate limited resources to support a massive population. The environmental issues are not created by ecological evolution but by man’s technological innovations and anthropocentricity. Thus man must find viable technological innovations to reverse the degradation and he must change his values. We must think beyond sustainability to explore creative ideas to achieve lasting sustainability.

Our urbanised areas are designed for close living and for their functionality but not for close living with nature. Our technological innovations to control the climatic conditions indoor allow us to ignore nature, weather cycles and climatic conditions. This misplaced confidence is propelling us down the slippery slope of unsustainability. The hope to reverse this grim trajectory by leaving fragile forests alone is equally misplaced. The rapid growth in urban population will demand for more land and resources that will result in more deforestation. Stopping deforestation will not restore earth’s overstretched ability to sustain life.

One approach perhaps is to think of forest beyond the trees and develop “forest cities” with trees in the forms of biomimetic architecture and engineering .
Biomimetics or biomimicry studies nature at three levels: the organism, its behaviours in the environment, and its roles in the ecosystem processes. Architectural structures can mimic a specific organism, its specific behaviours or the cycle of natural processes in the ecosystem. The underlying philosophy of biomimetic architecture is not to design buildings or structures by mimicking specific organisms but to understand their behaviour, processes, and the roles nature can play. Nature can be a model  to inspire aesthetic design. Nature can be a model to establish ecological standards for innovative creation of materials, structures and “living spaces for living people.” Nature can be a model to appreciate nature and the natural processes as something to learn from – not to be exploited.

Here are three examples in which urban planners, architects, scientists, engineers and designers had been inspired by the 3 roles of nature and its natural processes.

The Eastgate Centre , a shopping centre cum office complex in Harare, was “designed to be ventilated and cooled by entirely natural means”. The design was inspired by the indigenous Zimbabwean masonry and the self-cooling mounds of African termites.

The Project Haiti Orphanage and Children’s Center was designed with sustainability in mind and with the message to the children that their lives are so valued that they deserve the right to live in comfort and to breathe clean air. Its 6000 square foot structure was designed for net-zero-energy and water usage. The architects mimicked the Haitian Kapok tree’s heat-dispersing bark to design a low-emissivity, heat-dispersing “second skin” to keep the centre cool. The water storage area and bio-digester in the facility mimicked the tree’s unique system of collecting, filtering and storing water. A bio-digester converts organic waste into biogas for cooking and nutrients for the plants in the centre.

The Green School in Stockholm presents a more comprehensive approach to sustainable living. It is a school-cum-accommodation facility. It was designed to allow air to circulate naturally through the building. Its algae-filled glass façade provide different levels of shade determined by the available sunlight at different time of the day. Wide private terraces twist, slide and shift through its nine level structure to create private spaces for the residents and to provide maximum light exposure. Its centrepiece is a large 3-level enclosed greenhouse which features hanging gardens and vertical farming. It rolls nature, urban farming and urban living into one structure.

Each project offer glimpses how biomimicry can be applied at each role of nature to help build a sustainable future. Each project mimics how nature allocates resources within its environment, eliminates waste, and responds to changes. As isolated project, they are only showpieces or proto-types at best. They are single “voices in the wilderness” vocalising a part in a choral. Their impacts on sustainability are minimal.

The potential of biomimicry in environmental sustainability is in its applications at larger ecosystem level. “Forest cities” can be designed and developed from ground level with clusters of diverse biomimetic buildings, each performing different critical “ecological” processes and functions in a man-designed ecosystem to sustain a community in the same manner – just as natural bio-diverse ecology in a forest would engage, adapt, consume and replenish natural resources. We need a collection of diverse eco-structures to form a choir and sing in harmony the chorale in a sustainable environment.

Forest protection needs a broader approach and must consider the role agriculture play as a key driver for reducing poverty and a key driver of global deforestation. Agriculture is trapped in a systemic Catch-22 dilemma . Agriculture accounts for 80% tropical deforestation. It has reduced extreme poverty drastically and improved food security for 600 million or 80% of the world’s poor living in rural areas and working in farming. It has raised income of the extreme poor faster by up to 4 times more compared to other sectors . Unfortunately their agricultural practices are inefficient, thus causing more deforestation, water shortages and pollution than necessarily. They need to learn sustainable agriculture to reduce environment degradation and to be financially more stable over the long term .
Do we have to pay this price to “feed the world”?

Agriculture can be more sustainable and productive by using agro-ecological principles to manage farms as ecosystems. It is to work with nature – not against it – to avoid damaging the environment without sacrificing productivity or profitability. Environmental sustainability in agriculture requires good stewardship of the natural systems and resources. Among other things, this involves maintaining soil healthy: managing water and pollution; and promoting biodiversity.

Adopting crop rotation and intercropping (growing a mix of crops in the same area) promotes diversity and improves soil conditions and pest control. Planting cover crops prevents erosions. It can replenish soil nutrients and reduce herbicide usage by keeping weeds in check. Integrated pest management keeps crop pests under control while minimizing use of chemical pesticides. Integrating livestock rearing and crop growing can be efficient and improve profitability. Livestock can live near to close to the farms where their feed is produced and they can provide manure as fertilizers. Agro-forestry practices of mixing trees or shrubs into the farms can provide additional income, and shade and shelter for protecting plants, animals, and water resources. Better landscape management can enhance sustainability by using uncultivated or unused land to act as buffer strips, to control erosion, reduce nutrient runoff, support pollinators and biodiversity.

Augmenting sustainable agriculture practices in biomimetic buildings can be another step nearer to sustainability.


The third metaphor is – “WANT NOT, WASTE NOT”

A provocative rallying cry caught my attention. It asked “Will we be living LITTERally in waste if we do not do anything?”

The paradox of success is that it can lead to failure. Success presents an opulent life that generates disproportional amount of waste. One buys more than one needs, one buys food more than one’s appetite, one builds houses larger than required. Success can leave a heavy footprint on the environment. In contrast, the financially challenged lives a life of frugality. They wear hand-me-downs, they eat to satisfy their hunger not their appetite, they wear hand-me-downs, and they stay in cramped quarters built with re-cycled materials. Man has to learn to be frugal and to satisfy only their needs to leave lighter environmental footprints.

Waste generation does correlate with income pattern. Waste generation at the low income country is low initially but it increases at a faster rate with each income increment. The waste generated per person per day on global basis averages 0.74 kgs with a range between 0.11 and 4.54 kgs. High-income countries account for 16% of world’s population but they generate 34% of the world’s waste. A business-as-usual model estimated annual global waste to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2018 to 3.40 billion tonnes by 2050. The increase in the daily waste in low-income countries is projected to triple!

Rapid growths in population and waste disposal can have severe implications on health and environment sustainability. A third of global solid waste is not managed environmentally safe. Over half of the waste in low income countries is dumped openly. There is an need for better waste management.

Plastic waste is a classic example of waste that is persistent in nature.
Plastic resins are mass produced only 60 years ago but its total production is estimated to be a mind-boggling 8.3 billion metric tons . As of 2015, the total plastic waste generated is over 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste, of which only 9% was recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% were litters or dumped in landfills. Plastic waste can take as much as 500 years to decompose. By 2050, some 12 billion tons of plastic waste will end in landfills or as litters. They will end up in the oceans, the final sink, causing deaths to marine life. There will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, ton for ton.

The impact of plastic waste on marine life and on grazing and scavenging animals has captured attention on the improper disposal of plastic waste. Reports of micro-plastics being found in human stools indicate that micro plastics have entered the human food chains . A greener future needs reduction in waste much more than better waste management and re-cycling. Waste reduction lessens the need for re-cycling and management.
Working out strategies for plastic waste management is extremely challenging. The sheer volume of durable plastic waste will ‘break’ any waste systems. Recycling only delays the inevitable. Plastic resins in its current form cannot be recycled easily. Contamination and the mixing of different polymers generate secondary plastics of low technical and economic value. Incineration of plastics is not a viable option as it emits hazardous gases. It requires very strict emission control technology and effective incinerator design and operation to control emission.

The bigger issue is the wide applications of plastic. Our lives will not be the same without plastics. It is versatile, hygienic, lightweight, flexible and highly durable. It can be easily moulded into products or parts in electronics, textiles, construction, manufacturing and food packaging, and household items. Plastics are found in many of the products we used daily.

We have to look for sustainability with broader perspective. The pollution caused by straw and single use bags is the tip of an iceberg. Reducing plastic waste can start with discouraging single use of plastic straws and bags but such campaigns must progressively expand to reduce usage of all forms of plastics waste.
We need break-through technologies that can convert plastic waste into fuel and new forms of plastic resins. Biodegradable plastic is touted as eco-friendly but it is no silver bullet . Microorganisms may metabolise and break down their hydrocarbon chains at a faster rate but the amounts of pollutants generated to produce them negate the benefits. We need alternative plastics that are more environmental friendly. Berkeley Lab has created poly-diketoenamine – a recyclable plastic that acts like Lego pieces. It disassembles into its constituent parts at the molecular level and can be reassembled into a different shape, texture, and colour again and again without loss of performance or quality. This material is designed for use in textiles, foams, and even 3D printing!

We need a mindset that approaches sustainability comprehensively to deal with root causes. Piecemeal solution will only address the symptoms. If waste management is critical in keeping the environment pristine, then authorities must implement policies that incentivise waste reduction and recovery. Schools, communities and social organisation can educate the merits on the philosophy of want not/waste not.


The purpose, not the forms

We must reframe the meaning and purpose for sustainability. Sustainability is to ensure the long term existence of humanity. Sustainable development must cater for the needs of the present generations without compromising on those of future generations. The desired state is one in which living conditions and resources can meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural system. Sustainable developments thus must be based on principles to meet present and future human development goals and to sustain the ability of natural ecosystems to renew resources that the economy and society need.

We need to set up quadruple bottom line (QBL) which measures society, planet, economy and PURPOSE. It adds reasons for not compromising core values. The 4 Bottom Line extends the focus beyond the 3 Ps (People, Planet and Profit) to include the humanistic value of “purpose” that encompasses ethics, culture and compassion.

“Purpose” questions the political agenda and the powers that shape the approaches. Purpose leads us to understand the core ideas of various sustainable approaches and enable us to employ them more holistically more effectively towards common societal goals. We need not abandon them when they lose effectiveness nor should we consider them as panacea. The bottom line is that we must know and understand why we are doing what we are doing and be guided accordingly,

This is the right attitude to adopt when assessing the concepts like Circular, Green and Bio-Economy. These concepts are subtly diverse and their core ideas are constantly evolving.

The Circular Economy is a model that promotes economic growth while minimising the need for fresh resource inputs, and waste production, pollution and emissions. It essentially converts the economic system into a loop so that resources will be re-cycled in a circular manner to minimise waste generation and to avoid degrading the environment. It starts with social innovations to reframe consumers’ responsibility to use products right to the end of their life cycle and with technological innovations to develop efficient production, distribution and re-cycling systems that will minimise both the need for fresh resource inputs and the generation of waste, pollution and emissions. It requires re-designing of manufacturing systems from the ground up, starting with the proper use of raw materials, developing efficient production and distribution systems to collecting all used products and recovering of raw resources for recycling.

Manufacturing processes are to be re-framed to make better products with longer life cycle, and to create value for recycled components and resources to be used in the subsequent manufacturing cycles at the end of their product life cycle. The products are required to be durable, and easy to repair, modify and upgrade. Recycling is the key element in Circular Economy. This means that the products and their components must be given intrinsic values to encourage sharing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing and recycling.

Bioeconomy Council defines the bioeconomy, or bio-based economy as a model for industry and economy to use renewable biological resources sustainably to produce food, energy and industrial goods. Bio-economics tries to merge the interdependence and co-evolution of human economies with natural ecosystems. It treats the economy as a subsystem of Earth’s larger ecosystem and emphasises the preservation of natural resources as a form of capital. It tries to create healthy ecosystems and environments for humans and other organisms to survive. It tries to reduce negative human impact with environmentally friendly engineering, resources management and protection and to merge human economies with natural ecosystems . It tries to explore using untapped potential stored within millions of tons of biological waste and residual materials. It tries to complement industrial inputs with renewable biological resources; to foster innovation and inter-sectorial collaboration; and to promote bio-security in agri-environmental systems.

The Green Economy is a model that connects economic activities with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. It aims to achieve human well-being without exposing future generations to significant environmental and ecologic risks. It tries to enhance the functionality and resilience of socio-ecological systems with nature-based technology. Its development of sustainable economy is about reducing environmental risks and ecological degradation by replacing resources used with resources of equal or greater value. This is to avoid degrading or endangering natural biotic systems. It is concerned with the carrying capacity of natural systems and with the social, political, and economic challenges faced by humanity. The 2011 UNEP Green Economy Report argues “that to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair. Fairness implies recognizing global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a just transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.”

The themes of the three economic models have been adopted as governance models but their concepts are limited by their visions for economic growth and sustainable developments. Multiple actors are involved in the development of these economic concepts. Their interpretations and understandings are plastic, evolving and diverse. Each can sound more like rhetorical fuss. The right thing to do perhaps is not to favour one over others but to integrate and to harmonise their divergences. The social, legal and economic policies must incentivise the required changes to favour the formation of an economy that provides sustainable products and services.

These three economic models highlight the need for us to know the purpose and intent of the sustainable model we want to adopt. Knowing the purpose will prevent us from being carried away by the tune they are humming. The reasons – not the forms – matters most.


There is a crying need to re-frame existing economic, environmental and societal models to avoid leaving a bleak and unsustainable future to the generations to come. We need anticipate threats and opportunities from potential changes to avoid being swept off our feet and disrupt our life. Precautionary steps can be taken in preparation. Changes will be less disruptive if we can re- imagine and re-frame our economic, social and environmental models. We need systemically to unify sustainable societal values, sustainable economic stability and sustainable ecology to work in tandem to bring about a caring people, greater prosperity and a better planet. It has to be a multi-prong approach to manage the interlocking systemic issues that plaque sustainability. Strength is found in unity.

We need to think beyond sustainability. We need to consider smart economic policies to incentivise the fight against climate change . We need to consider education to bring about changes in societal values to be the caretakers of the environment. We need to encourage human ingenuity to develop “forested” community to help restore environmental sustainability and to develop “smart cities” empowered by artificial intelligence to share resources and to reduce wastages to build a more sustainable future.

4 thoughts on “The 3Ps + 1P ROAD TO A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

  • Franca Colozzo

    Dear Henry Kwok, your article is well structured but, if you allow me a criticism, it is too long. The reader’s attention slips so far. However, you have hit all the explosive aspects of the current devastating situation. But the real problem is the exponential growth of the human race which, precisely because it has defeated diseases, extended its life artificially without improving it from a social point of view, devastated forests to exploit the polluted soil, etc., has found the ideal humus of multiply to the detriment of the other species. Looking at the countries that have produced this negative effect for all of humanity, in particular Asia and Africa without a serious birth control policy, we have to ask ourselves what the future will reserve for our children and all endangered animal and plant species . The technology has not yet given an adequate and valid answer for the salvation of the planet, Aping advertising and the unlucky American habits, now increasingly widespread thanks to the mass media, has only worsened the current situation.


      @Franca. your criticism noted. i agree the article could be too long but i have tried to condense it. i have the choice of skimming on the issues or to dive deeper to show how complex the issues on sustainability is really are. thus i choose the greater of two evils!

      the population growth rates varies from countries to countries. globally while the growth will continue , the exponential growth rate is expected to be tapering off to single figure by the next decade.

      you are right. the size of the human population is putting the pressure on sustainability. societal values has not risen with the population growth. in fact recent events are showing that societal values are slipping downward. this started in the west with the emphasis on individual rights and freedom. nature tells us that there are times to be compete and there are times to co-exist. there are time to be individualistic and there are times to be communal. when we break down that value, we will be heading towards disasters.

  • Franca Colozzo

    @Henry. An exact and irrefutable analysis. My comment, more than a criticism (it was just to tell you that your article could be considered a real essay), wants to be an appreciation to the focal points highlighted that correspond to an evolution truly complex and practically unsustainable of the human race.
    Certainly the planet will survive the catastrophe we are inducing, many species will succumb (as unfortunately already happened) as perhaps also a large part of the human race that is bringing the system to collapse. It makes us reflect the insensitivity of President Trump who, faced with an announced cataclysm, turns his back on the Paris agreement with an indifference that is as frightening as if the Earth were his alone.



    my apologies for the late response. i am very thick skin. i can take criticisms and comments. that is part of lifetime learning to try to do things better today compared to yesterday

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