From the beginning, the global debate on sustainable development has been challenged by several ethical issues. However, to protect the economic interests of the corporate establishment (in particular), the market economy still dominates decision-making processes, both public and private. If we add the great meddling of private money in politics (corruption), the result has simply been to forget the multiple dimensions that accompany the important thematic and strategic aspects of the sustainability of development. In general, we observe punctual interventions; they characterize the situation in most of the world, including international financing and development organizations.

The inclusion of ethics in the economy -economy- demands a radical change in the notions of well-being, development, progress, and competitiveness… The change will only be a reality as a result of a revolution of values, which certainly go beyond individualism. the materialism that invades our societies today. Today, for many it is evident that our well-being does not consist only of consuming more or having more.

It will be the collective values ​​(eg, solidarity, compassion, equity, cooperation, love, justice, and interdependence) that must be considered and self-realized in our societies. This is not trivial, since we are still dominated by a vision that takes us away from our nature as a collective humanity. A dimension of our social consciousness.

At the same time, our well-being is defined, for the most part, by our quality of life, the good use of our time, and happiness… We know that many of these things are not material (having things). It is something that goes far beyond that. They are things and situations that we feel with our hearts. It is not “having” that makes us happy. It is the “being” ourselves and as a society that is worthwhile in this life.

Nature (our human and natural environment) is a fundamental component of our well-being and a central element in the quality of life: clean water, pure air, landscapes, forests, the sea, our mountains, animals, rivers, plants, birds, minerals and all our human and natural environment. The state of our nature is a key piece and we must be responsible in caring for, conserving, and protecting it.

This responsibility is collective. It is a collective good that belongs to us. The issue that concerns our nature in the public and national sphere is called “sustainable development”. A term that has been defined in many ways. Perhaps the most important was the definition of Gro Brundtland, who wrote a book entitled “Our Common Future” (1987). He uses three keywords to understand sustainable development: our, future, and common. He says that this type of development is ours, it is collective. It is not an individual issue. It is not a matter of I, I, I. It is a matter of us. This demands group action.

Talk about the future. This is something we must build together. The future is built, and it depends on us how that future will be. Talk about the common future. That is, we are a national family, we are a regional family, we are a global family. That is why global warming affects us all. The loss of biodiversity affects us all. The destruction of the ozone layer affects us all. That’s right, Our Common Future.

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Brundtland defined sustainable development as a reality where the present generation (us) can satisfy our needs, without limiting future generations so that they can also satisfy their needs. That is, the “we” is not only you and me, but all the people who have not yet been born.

This deserves deep thought. This means acting now. This demands policies, investments, and many other things to give future generations a planet Earth that is at least as good, or as much better, than how we receive it.

After decades of debate, it is a reality that there are many ways to understand this type of development:

  1. As a way to develop and transform a society.
  2. As a collection of collective values ​​of management and conservation of our natural resources and the environment.
  3. As a way of living on this planet, not destroying, not squandering…
  4. As a right, in particular, the right to a good life, to an acceptable quality of life…
  5. As a state of social consciousness where we understand that nature is not destroyed nor is any form of life that exists today negatively affected.


Below, Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Executive at Ikea, talks about his experience selling eco-friendly materials and practices, both within the firm and to customers around the world. An example of what can be done, by the corporate world, is to support efforts to create awareness of global sustainability.

Today, I would like to refer to an important dimension: the “ethical” dimension. That is, the dimension that has to do with what is good or bad, with what is acceptable or unacceptable…

But here I do not want to make value judgments, but to indicate which are the topics that contain very important ethical issues. If we recognize them, if we address them…this will be a very big step in our country and the world.

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In the remainder of this text, I will address two major issues. One is the importance of “environmental economics”. I will refer to this topic because I am an economist. Two, the most relevant ethical issues in this context.

Environmental Economics

Environmental economics studies the impacts of the economy and economic activities (produce, consume, sell, etc.) on the environment (air and water pollution). All economic activities affect the environment. Among the most important issues, we can mention:

  1. The failure of the markets. The market does not have the mechanisms to resolve the negative impacts on the environment. This demands to regulate the markets with green taxes, or subsidies.
  2. How we give value to things. The market assigns a value (a price) that depends fundamentally on the utility that consumers have about the use of what is purchased. But other goods are not traded in the market. As in the case of air, one does not buy it. He just breathes it.
  3. Define who owns our natural assets. For this, property rights (public or private) must be assigned. These rights are very important in the case, for example, of water. Today in Chile these rights are generally private, when they should be collective or citizen.
  4. Establish the role of governments. Generally, governments fail because they do not establish the incentives to have a green economy. A well-known incentive is a tax that is called “the polluter pays”.
  5. Define how to manage the common goods that belong to all of us. It is not an easy task.
  6. Prevent production processes from irreversibly eliminating natural resources such as fish, and native forests…
  7. Increase the shelf life of consumer products. Some household items lasted 50 years. Today, the last four years. That is, many goods become obsolete very quickly, increasing the waste (garbage) that is generated.

Economics and Ethics

We cannot allow the economy and politics to act in an ethical vacuum; this is simply a suicidal path for humanity. Here are some examples of the big ethical issues:

  1. The importance of committing ourselves to a manifesto for life; but OF ALL THE FORMS OF LIFE THAT EXIST ON THE PLANET.
  2. The constant concern about the well-being of future generations.
  3. The need to understand that the earth, that the planet earth, is not a thing but a living entity.
  4. The challenge of defining collectively and by consensus how far the human being can take the transformation of nature. Can we afford to remove all native forests? Can we eliminate thousands of animal and plant species? Where is that limit, who defines it, and what must be sacrificed?
  5. The definition of an ethic is associated with the common good of humanity. How far can we continue the loss of biodiversity, how far can global warming go, and how far can we continue destroying the ozone layer… How far can we contaminate the oceans, rivers, soils, space… These ecological common goods are accompanied by other common goods such as human security, peace, stability, and conflict resolution…
  6. The existence of the so-called “ecological debt” between developed countries (which take raw materials and natural resources) and less developed countries that are their owners. Developed countries have not paid the true real value of these resources (royalty).
  7. The permanent manifestation of ecological injustice at all levels, especially with poor people. An example of environmental injustice is the definition of “sacrificial zones”. There should be no such zones, whatever the purpose.
  8. The importance of ethical aspects linked to space (spatial ethics). Is it ethical to contaminate the neighbor? Is it ethical to leave mining tailings that will contaminate the waters that future generations will drink? Where do the corporate tambourines end?
  9. The importance of environmental quality losses and ecological destruction about our social identity, to our identity as a nation. Environmental destruction entails a progressive loss of identity, sense of belonging, and capacity for integration…
  10. The impact of the deterioration in the quality of food, rights to healthy food… We must not justify food security (food supply) using transgenic seeds, and the large losses of indigenous seeds.
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  • The sustainability of development is not just another issue. It’s the only theme. It is the paradigm of the future.
  • We have to create a battery of incentives to move towards sustainable development, and empowered development.
  • What used to be a “technological” limitation is now a “biological” limitation. This must change our way of seeing, in practice, well-being, development, the economy, public and private decisions, the definition of priorities, the importance of the medium and long term, etc.
  • Because our actions affect many forms of life, and many generations, that are related to our planet, it is imperative to address together and consensually the ethical problems that humanity faces.

In conclusion, we leave you with the following presentation in which Jason Clay, WWF’s senior vice president for market transformation, assures that if only 100 key companies are convinced to support sustainability, global markets would be transformed. to protect the planet.