My pessimistic tendencies are really to be understood as a mindset calculated to ensuring that optimism is sustainable over time.
There are no medals for pointing out the many ways in which the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development -- which ended yesterday -- fell short of what many had hoped for in terms of bold and clear leadership from governments.
In next week's post I will try to screen the huge amount written and said about Rio for what may briefly be said relevant to this blog's subject: the role and regulation of the private sector in achieving public goals, especially in Africa.
Wading through this now, I'm taking the easy route by offering only a reflection on the words used for the summit's outcome document 'The Future we Want'. Whatever its many paragraphs, I wonder if there is something significant in this not having been called 'The Future we Need'. You can imagine an activist arguing that the global development and environmental challenges 'we' all face are not matters merely of want, but of (dire) need.
Well this is just one (optimistic, perhaps counter-intuitive) thought, but could one argue that referring to 'needs' in such cases holds less potential than referring to 'wants'?
On the corporates side -- and while not all sustainable development issues can be explained in terms of commercial incentives -- describing an issue in terms of what consumers and potential consumers want (desire) often gets attention going in a way that reiteration of staple needs perhaps does not. One only has to reflect on how investors have 'discovered' the African urban consumer to appreciate this.
For governments -- especially those that tend to neglect their citizens needs -- framing something in terms of wants (demands) might also trigger a different nerve, and perhaps greater responsiveness. This is especially so as governments continue to absorb what 2011's Arab uprisings mean for cases where populations want their needs met far more quickly and inclusively than governments might have thought.
Ahead of next week's review of the Rio+2o fallout, I also include a link to 'The Future we Want' report our firm produced for the UN Global Compact ahead of the Corporate Sustainability Forum that preceded Rio: here.