Guest blog: The great mystery: How to encourage sustainable development practises?

Guest blog by: Günther Bachmann 

It's like a silly nightmare. The Global Sustainability Goals is the most ambitious thing the diplomatic world has ever produced, but implementation is the worst ever - while global warming, the sixth species extinction, a rotten food system, and social imbalances are creating problems ever faster than possible solutions. The world is at a critical juncture, and the younger generation is rightly taking to the streets. Far-reaching demands and tough rhetoric are one thing; however, they remain hollow if they are not combined with hard facts about success stories. Here's the strange thing: Even those successes that do exist are hardly analyzed and turned into seeds of hope.

"Saving the world" is the ultimate, ubiquitous rhetoric today, whether in boardrooms, in seminars, in parliaments, or on the streets. Practical knowledge of what really works and what doesn't, and why, at the national and grassroots level remains a mystery to many, not to mention proven and tested methods and governance approaches.

I build this book on the insights I was privileged to gather over almost 20 years as former Secretary General for the German Sustainability Council advising governments and negotiating stakeholder statements at the highest national level.

Interested people often ask me for the one patent remedy that they can easily take home with them and that would make their day. There is no such thing. Waiting for the luxury silver bullet is part of the problem, not the solution. The same is true for all those high level discussions that so often are called „rich“ and „exciting“, but are pretty pointless.

In this book, I argue that there is not a single profound lesson that anybody can take away without the experience of thinking about oneself and re-assessing what this person can do with its own resources. Sustainability is everyone's business, whether it's people in business, politics, the public, or on the street, with all due differences, of course. The very idea is: look at your own hands before you pointing at others, and translate this into hard nosed governance features which then build the case for legal and policy measures.

My book takes the reader behind the scenes of German sustainable policies and practice, whilst also comparing Germany with other national approaches. The insider perspective suggests new lines of vision against the tangle of conference fatigue and buzzwords. Environmentalists and vested interests often display entrenched attitudes that downplay success. Meeting the requirements of the SDGs is therefore also a cultural issue.

The book lays out some basic facts about Germany, its economic, environmental and social status, and explains the historical roots of today's impetus for sustainable development. It also makes the case that we need more off-the-beaten-path solutions and that the overall narrative for the Anthropocene is yet to emerge.

It is the first time that the state of German sustainability policy has been described "from the inside," with all the major failures, the difficulties, and the ways in which gatekeeping and governance are putting the pieces together. We see attempts to neglect and delay the issue, but on the other hand, we also see tough overengineering, bureaucratic rashes, and weak communication of the basic idea. But we also see a positive change in people's mentality. We see commitment, skilled entrepreneurial action, educated innovators and courageous activists, and we see politicians who know their sdg alphabet quite well. In this sense, democracy and sustainability are privileged partners when it comes to re-purposing the political decision making system. And this, exactly, is one to the tasks that lay ahead for Germany on the domestic level in order to enter on-target pathways towards the nationally adapted SDGs and to become climate-neutral. And this is also true with regard to Germanys place in the recent turbulences of the globalised economic system and for Germany’s contributions to the multilateral decision making system.

I hope that my book will be of relevance to sustainability professionals and policy makers, globally. More importantly, I hope, it will serve as a source of hope and encouragement for activist in other countries to find appropriate off-script ways of saving the planet.

Günther Bachmann: How to Successfully Encourage Sustainable Development Policy. Lessons from Germany, ISBN 9781032149523, published May 12, 2022 by Routledge, 208 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations


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