I have just returned from one week of intensive training for Sustainability consulting and Sustainability reporting for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs).  This was through the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna, Austria.  UNIDO is the only United Nations agency tasked with developing jobs and work opportunities in the developing countries.  (The other agencies, like UNICEF, WHO, etc give aid and assistance to people in the least developed countries.)  Of the 20 attendees, 4 were from Croatia, 3 were from Bosnia, and one each from several countries including Ecuador, Moldova, Ukraine, Greece, Austria, Germany, etc.  I was the only representative from the United States and was also the only one there not involved in consulting in a developing country.  I was there not because of my job, but just because I have become very involved in many aspects of the United Nations as a personal interest and as a hobby.  As such, I have become quite involved with the United Nations Global Compact which is the UN’s work with the business sector in assuring that businesses are run in a Sustainable fashion.

 As a quick explanation of business Sustainability, it is determining how a business should operate now so that it will be viable 50 years from now.  (Later, I will discuss how this can apply to us as individuals who are Humanists.)  This approach has evolved to be centered on what is called Triple Bottom Line Accountability (TBL)  Instead of just “the bottom line” of a business, which infers just the financial bottom line, TBL includes a bottom line accountability of Environmental and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  (Triple Bottom Line accountability is also known as Profit/Planet/People accountability for those who like alliterations.)  A company is not considered a viable company if it is successful financially, but irresponsible environmentally.  At the same time, a company cannot do something for the environmental that is good if that means it will fail financially.  The same is true with Corporate Social Responsibility.  A company must operate responsibly in all three areas.

 A company must perform environmentally in such a way that it will be viable in the future – that is, it cannot be depleting resources which will adversely impact the business later.  As an example, I work for a large Fortune 200 company.  They performed an energy audit and discovered that they could not continue to use their energy resources in the same trend and be viable later.  They discovered that within 25 years, they would not be able to afford the energy that would be consumed if they did not resort to energy conservation and/or energy alternatives.  And they can look at other environmental aspects and see that they need to change their whole approach to include issues such as recycling, etc.

 The same was true with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  CSR involves both the external stakeholders (shareholders, supply chain companies, customers, etc.) as well as internal stakeholders (employees).  They discovered that projecting ahead 50 years, they would not be able to draw on the available workforce the people they would need unless they changed.  There will not be the demographics of white, male engineers available for them.  So they have instituted many changes to become an “Employer of Choice” to appeal to many of the minority groups, and women.  They have also seen that with the four generations of workers now in the work force, the youngest generation is motivated most by “making a difference”.  The younger generation wants to work in jobs where they can make a difference (in the environment or socially) and/or work for a company that is socially responsible.  My company has also seen that to be the Employer of Choice, they must reach out and become a sustaining member of the community – not as PR efforts, but as sincere efforts to remain viable.

 These assumptions of environmental and social responsibility are because of business sense and not because they are showing themselves to be “progressive” or a “tree-huggers”.  The shareholders are demanding that companies be more transparent so that the investors can see how a company is operating in a sustainable fashion.  Investors want to make sure a company is not operating in an unsustainable manner and so TBL has become a business imperative.  I have been told that the SEC is thinking of requiring companies to publish an annual Sustainability Report by the year 2015.

 How does this apply to us as individuals who are Humanists? As a Humanist, I have the ability and the responsibility to develop all that it means to be human both in myself and in others.  This definition includes the word “responsibility”.  Humanism is more than a belief system, it is also a value system and one of our values should be Responsibility. 

 As a Humanist, I have a responsibility to my environment.  There is a Native American saying that says “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  As Humanists, we need to insure that the environment will be just as viable for our future generations as it is now.  There is a movement in some of the religious circles (especially among the young) that mankind has a caretaker responsibility assigned by a god.  We don’t need to take this direction from a god to recognize our own responsibility for environmental sustainability.  We can be good without a god and we can and should do the right thing environmentally.

 And as a Humanist, we should recognize our social responsibility.  We have the responsibility to do what we can to care for the vulnerables in our society, to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots, to care for those who are in our first degree of separation (family and friends) as well as those who are six degrees separated from us.  To sustain the global society, we need to recognize our responsibilities in all of our social milieus. 

 It is striking to see how Business Sustainability has become so prevalent in Europe while only beginning to be used here in the States.  (If I had not known beforehand how much more prevalent this is in Europe, it would have been embarrassing for me as a person from the United States.)  Although many of the top Fortune US companies are now publishing annual Sustainability Reports, it is a concept that has not become popular in the United States culture like it has in Europe – even in the European developing countries formerly of the Soviet Union.  The whole concept is part of the general vernacular in Europe and several European CEOs were meeting and discussing what they could do to attract the best talent.  They came to the decision that although most young people looking for a job do not read the company’s annual Financial Report, almost all of them will read the company’s annual Sustainability Report.  Over there, in order to broaden the scope of the approach beyond that of corporations, they are now using the term Responsibility Reporting.

 Perhaps we as Humanists should include Responsibility Reporting as some of our Key Performance Indicators at the individual level.  Imagine the branding image if Humanists were known for their Environmental responsibilities and their Social responsibilities as so many more businesses are becoming known.

 David Kimball



  1. 1 Rick Heller
    December 29, 2009 at 8:08 pm


    I agree that sustainability has to be a Humanist value. Some on the religious right mock environmentalism as a “new religion” that substitutes for the supposed god-shaped hole in the secular soul. I think there are a few people in the green movement who do get meaning and purpose from “saving” the world, but overall secular people are trying to address a real problem.

    In fact, I think one of the reasons the religious right scoffs at climate change is that they figure god won’t let anything bad happen to his people.

  2. 2 Rekha Vemireddy
    December 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I don’t think religious belief or identification is inconsistent with expecting disasters. Doesn’t Christianity have an apocalypse, presaged by natural calamities? I think Jews have figured out that their God does let bad things happen to them, e.g., pograms, the Holocaust.

    The main reason people seem incredulous about global warming is that they do not want to reduce their material standard of living. Any claim that their resistance is based on religious belief is really just the age-old interpretation of religion to serve current economic interests.

    One problem with atheist commentary on religion and religious people is an inability to see how much religious ideas are re-interpreted and recast to serve material interests. For example, invasions and wars launched in the name of religion are often really about economic competition. The religious references are just used by power elites to motivate the populace and troops.

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