Re-thinking Sustainable Innovation: A New Development Discourse

The climate change presents a challenge to science and policy makers to articulate a new discourse for  sustainable development. Although, the Middle East, the cradle of civilization, was  a fertile land, it was transformed by modern technology and new models of development into a vulnerable ecosystem.


The Paradox

The paradox is that we are witnessing high levels of poverty despite a growth in global GDP. Also, our natural capital is being degraded at an alarming rate. This is evident when we look at global indicators; i.e., the planet has lost half its mangrove in the last century, and about 70% of its total wetlands. These losses are due to urban and agricultural growth.  In essence, pollution, desertification and deforestation can be attributed to a set of policies including free trade agreements and foreign debt owed by less developed countries that make them convert ecosystems into commodities.

For example, the investment of global firms in the developing countries and acquisition of  over 1000 hectares of land in Ghana by international corporations for planting jatropha to produce bio-fuel resulted in disruption in local society and ecology.  But we notice that there  is a shortcoming in the carbon policy that addresses climate change since it allocates more attention and value to present not the future.  We cannot invest on a dead planet and if we view that our Earth is dead, we will kill what is alive.

Reclaiming sacred relationship with Nature

The core climate issue is a conceptual one which stems from a worldview of the Earth as a machine and where humans are viewed as observers and positioned  outside  the domain of Nature. Hence, it is imperative to reclaim our sacred relationship with Nature. Besides, it is insightful to reframe the “climate debate” to embody a new perspective that the the Earth as a living organism and humans are responsible to take care of ecosystems and  species.

We are engaged in the wrong debate with respect to climate and carbon dioxide emissions. The issue is not simply about the temperature of the earth but rather our ecological footprints. Simply said, the indicators for a resilient and sustainable future are underpinned by a shift in consumption patterns, development model and lifestyles.

The healing of the planet can be achieved through changing how we value ecosystems and interact with nature and cosmos.  Realizing that the ecological crisis is simply a moral crisis is a key for change. Besides, re-think sustainable innovation is a matter of mindset and perspective where humans need to recognize that Nature is finite,  living and intelligent. Everything in Nature is connected to everything.

Another issue in climate and ecological crisis is how we value and create money. Paradoxically, lending money is the basis for money creation and money originates as credit to those who will pay it back with interest. This creates misconceptions of the value of nature since it is looked at Nature as a commodity to be utilized for urban development. This economic model is not sustainable and should be re-thought.

What is Sustainable Innovation

Sustainable innovation is about green design of new products and processes. Green accounting in a green economy era calls for a shift in metrics from GDP to ecosystem services and from dependence on fossil oil to a transition to renewable energy including solar and wind.

More importantly, the doom and gloom story does not convey a positive discourse.  It is wise to change our story from fear for human survival to healing and love to Nature and life. It is not inspiring to wait till crisis takes place to force humans to respond.

Circular economy and sharing economy illuminate new positive future that considers new models and principles for sustainability. These include climate funding, zero-pollution, waste-to-energy schemes, energy audit and efficiency, recycling and ecosystem restoration, cleaner production, green chemistry, green university, green procurement and sustainability reporting. All these innovations in products, processes, organization, marketing, and business models are attainable through design thinking, biomimcry and learning from nature.


In sum, the environmental crisis propels us to change our priorities and to view our planet in a holistic manner and to respect  the local needs by thinking of environmental justice.

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About Odeh Rashed Al-Jayyousi

Odeh Al-Jayyousi is a professor in the Department of Technology and Innovation Management at Arabian Gulf University (Bahrain). He is also an independent consultant and a founder of Sustainable Development Professionals for Environmental Consulting (Jordan). He was the vice president for science and research at the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) in Jordan during 2011-2013. He was the regional director for IUCN – The International Union for Conservation of Nature - West Asia / Middle East regional office during 2004-2011. He was dean of research and professor in civil engineering during 1994-2004. Prof Al-Jayyousi is a founding board member Jordan Green Building Council, and a member of the Advisory Board for MSc program in IWRM between Cologne and Jordan University. He has also authored a popular book on “Islam and sustainable development”.

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