IMD International

Leading by values: how sustainability and religion come together

IMD Professor Reacts: Francisco Szekely on the Vatican’s upcoming climate summit

April 23, 2015

Despite the urgent need to act to abate climate change, negotiations at the United Nations level on the environment are not making much progress towards achieving global cooperation. Now religious leaders are taking the lead. The Vatican recently announced that it will host a major conference on climate change on 28 April 2015.

Sustainability and religion are very closely related. Two thousand years ago, the Hebrews developed the concept of the "sabbatical year", in which the land is let rest after six years of continuous production. They clearly understood the need for the ecosystem to recuperate its nutrients and biological strength. Most religions talk about the moral dimension of protecting the environment and the need for human life to be harmonious with nature. The basic concepts all religions seem to embrace when talking about how humans should relate to nature is "respect" and "care". Respect for nature, respect for one another and care for nature and your neighbor.

The Vatican's upcoming conference will bring together some of the world's leading climate scientists and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The event, titled "Protect the earth, dignify humanity: the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development", hopes to help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change. One of its goals is to highlight the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people—especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children and future generations.

The conference will include participants from major world religions and aims to elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment ahead of an anticipated communication by the Pope scheduled for this summer.

The fact that religious leaders are getting together to discuss a global issue that diplomats don't seem to be able to resolve indicates that we are in the midst of long-ignored moral crisis. It is a crisis of values at a time when most of us seem to have forgotten the importance of living with and leading with values.

Business leaders should pay attention to what happens at the Vatican. If more companies and individuals thought more about moral values, the world would have more strength to overcome its current financial, food, migration and other crises.

Francisco Szekely is Professor of Leadership and Sustainability at IMD and Director of IMD's Global Center for Sustainability Leadership (CSL).

He will be teaching at IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) taking place from June 21-26, 2015.



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