The past few days represent one of the most inspiring periods in my life, as I had the privilege to attend WBCSD’s Council Meeting 2017 in Mexico City. From addressing some of the most pressing problems Planet Earth has to face to discovering the incredible Mexican culture, my attendance to the meeting brought me a better understanding of the world we all live in.
It is with no doubt that, in order to achieve a better world for us and for the future generations, people should concentrate on the fulfilment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, long-term aspirations that can change the damaging course our planet is following at the moment. However, both the public and private sector, both the individuals and the companies should be engaged in the fulfilment of these goals. The business perspective for sustainable development holds new opportunities for the private sector, driving innovation, boosting profits and increasing efficiency, even though it may seem extremely difficult for a company to gain profits in a sustainable way. A powerful example places us in India, where the ITC company successfully delivers sustainable business in the three main economic sectors in the country – agriculture, manufacturing and services, being concentrated on inclusive growth and the integration of environmental and societal outcomes in business.
But we should take into consideration that in India, 70% of the population lives in rural areas. Therefore, the approach there should be different from the pathway adopted in urban areas. What does the future hold in terms of cities? By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, with an increase of 54% compared to the actual situation. This means that 1 billion people will move into cities in the next 15 years. Urbanisation is therefore a crucial driver of economic growth, as no country has ever shifted from low-income to middle-income without a significant population movement, which provides social inclusion and participation along with economic dynamism.
But does urbanisation always bring advantages? The answer is negative, as this process challenges the value chains supporting city mobility, infrastructure and housing. One downside people usually incur when transiting from rural to urban areas is the price of housing, these problems being acknowledged by the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11. As of 2012, one in three families in Latin America and the Caribbeans lived in dwellings, which are either unsuitable for habitation or lack infrastructure. In Brazil, there is a housing deficit that affects 28 million people, while in Mexico 9 million families live in substandard housing. To solve homelessness in Honduras, 45,000 housing units need to be built each year for the next two decades.
While there were efforts made to tackles the deficit of housing units, actions to improve the quality of the housing have not reached the same scale and momentum. Even when building low-cost house units, resilience and the reduction of vulnerabilities should be taken into account, as otherwise, the building may be easily affected by different factors such as natural disasters, this leading to the need to rebuild.
There raises the question: Can we build safe, green and friendly housing at lower rates? As example is the most powerful weapon, I would like to direct our attention to ‘Echale! A Tu Casa’, a social enterprise which aims to provide low-income families in Mexico the opportunity to own safe and environmental friendly homes at affordable prices. The families are taught to spend an amount of around 30% of their income trying to build or improve their homes, the enterprise buying more than 60% of the materials needed for the building process, purchasing them from the local suppliers and providing employment for the local people. By harnessing construction innovation, Echale! has managed to streamline the self-build process, also keeping costs down and construction rates up. 30,000 houses have been built and 150,000 existing homes have been improved in Mexico alone, the enterprise helping 1 million people and reaching a turnover of 5 million dollars by 2014. For more details, consult the Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s report ‘Better Business, Better World’.
I would let you decide: how should the future look like? Bright and clean or dark and polluted? Can the urbanisation process provide better lives for the people living in rural areas as well as a better environment for the future generations? Taking a look at the revolutionary companies such as the one mentioned below, I would like to say: THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT! WE ARE ALL IN CHARGE OF TAKING ACTION! Together, we can reach our collective goal – save Planet Earth!