Business is in pole position to contribute. It is paramount for businesses to embrace entrepreneurship and encourage innovations as business and Its environment is constantly changing. In fact the only certainty is that the future is uncertain. The history of business is littered with many examples of companies that failed to adapt and so failed altogether. Conversely, there is already plenty of evidence of profitable businesses being built around innovation in ‘the green economy’ which has now become ‘the new normal’.
While it is partly a matter of building businesses that profit from the new green economy, it has also now become equally important for businesses to embrace Cultural Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) into their DNA for their own good and public interest. CSR and ESG can no longer be seen as mere tokenism and PR spin. CSR and ESG are now related to innovation for energy conservation, recycling, sustainable utilization of resources, avoidance of exploitation and pollution, achieving work-life balance, good corporate citizenship, good governance – and so on within each and every business and cross all supply chains.
Tomorrow’s world depends on today’s corporate social responsibility. It is now widely accepted that it is grossly inadequate for businesses to leave it entirely to governments to legislate for sustainability. And so Milton Friedman’s dictum is now seen as seriously passé – even if once it might have seemed more apt. In 1970 Milton Friedman, the arch doyen of the Chicago free market school, contended that:
‘There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.’
ASCENT sets out to be a forum to discuss these issues. All businesses can and must do much better. Ethics must be at the core of things and across all spectrums involving all players in business. Supplier, customers and regulators must conduct themselves ethically and no effort must be spared to promote ethics and good governance in business. ASCENT welcomes submissions to do with ‘building a sustainable world’ relating to any of these parties.
The story of I.T. has been excellent in terms of continued growth in productivity. I.T. has made amazing contributions to the quality of life across the world. Engineering is now being depended upon to deliver the nations’ promises about a sustainable, green future, and not least I.T. and software engineering.
The industrial revolution’s substitution of machines for what people used to do, and more recently the replacement by electronic devices and software of what machines had done, have had truly dramatic and positive impacts upon productivity and upon the utilization of scarce resources. Few industries have a better track record for innovation. To this, I.T has become so much more productive in both hardware and software. Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, was not exaggerating when in 1965 he espoused Moore’s law that projected a doubling of the number of components per integrated circuit every two years.
Of course there are downside risks in all of this. For instance, electronic devices use scarce rare-earth metals and recycling can be problematic. Obsolete IT equipment poses a recycling challenge. Recently we have become acutely aware of the power of social media and big data for good but also for ill. Arguably cybercrime, alongside other sustainability concerns, is becoming an existential threat.
ASCENT welcomes papers on the future of IT as a driver of sustainability. Also, ASCENT welcomes participants from all branches of engineering, especially those submitting papers on how an entrepreneurial approach to I.T. can deliver a better world. In addition, ASCENT is particularly interested in the interconnectedness of IT with other branches of engineering and with the other sub-themes of this conference, namely I.T.’s interconnectivity with the roles of business and education in greening the globe. For instance, computer modelling has been a principal engine driving our predictions of future global warming. And IT is enabling the development of new, sophisticated educational scaffolds and educational mediums, for instance in the form of MOOCs.
Finally, ASCENT conference is open to contributions which seek to explain how engineering can and must contribute to greening the planet.
Last but not least, the latest ASCENT Conference Education, Learning and Training, and the associated track at the ASCENT conference, present opportunities to explore the role of education in identifying and giving effect to the business and I.T. In the last few years, the education sector has witnessed innovations such as tools to highly personalize learning, online learning platforms to increase access, and creating new affordable private schools in developing countries to address the lack of quality public schools. With trillions of dollars spent annually on education around the world, the large potential market, and significant opportunities for improvement, there has been a corresponding growth in investments in companies seeking to transform this sector. This calls for research into the roles of entrepreneurs and innovators in education industry.
In the wake of the 2007/8 global financial crisis, business schools belatedly turned their attention to teaching and researching business ethics. Now educators need to give substance to sustainability issues which are an important component of ethical behaviour. We educate tomorrow’s leaders today. And, of course, driven by the demands of their more socially responsible students, many universities now have a strong story to tell about the greening of their universities as businesses.
Developing nations are rightly very conscious of the priority of nation building. We are building sustainable nations and we must start in our schools. Our children and their children will depend on what we offer educationally today. It is a tall order for educators as we are asking our students to do not as we and our predecessors have done, but as we are now starting to espouse. It will be paramount for our students to take their educators seriously: it requires an overt commitment by educators.
The pedagogy of learning, as it is related to sustainability issues, is now surely the new wave of pedagogy to be developed and applied in our schools, universities and in our educational programmes within businesses. We would like ASCENT to share with participants how this is developing.