Greater sustainability is now more than a vital issue - it has become an issue of survival of our civilization, while the present pandemic is creating game-changing conditions which go well beyond strongly accelerated process of digitalisation and remote operations. It has been assessed that remote working and online shopping could drive 14 million cars off the US roads permanently. Jeremy Schwab has estimated that fighting the Covid-19 could cost 500 times as much as appropriate pandemic prevention measures. As the ancient wisdom teaches us, let us not waste this valuable (and certainly very costly) crisis experience!

Becoming increasingly aware that sustainability is critically important there is a growing interest to measure sustainability performance, evaluate it, and rank countries accordingly. There are many indicators being used: in1990 they were 10, and since 2001 already 160! Presently there could be already over 200 of them, though some scientists claim that several methodological issues should be considered more seriously. Surely some of these critical comments should not be ignored, but measuring and ranking do help policymakers to face the results of their efforts, as well as policy failures.

Humanity has undoubtedly never lived without problems, and big leaders are remembered historically by intelligently defining and timely (though often only 5 minutes to 12 o'clock) implementing appropriate solutions. But those were times when the majority of people were illiterate, science was well-locked into its proverbial ivory tower, and decisions were made by autocratic rulers supported by a very narrow elite.

In the 21st century, we are experiencing dynamic economic and population growth, intensified globalisation, as well as governance quality challenges – meeting higher democratic standards of the educated population. Together with accumulated socio-economic problems, within countries and globally, we are now facing broadening of government – but not necessarily followed by effective policy changes and needed reforms and solutions. Undoubtedly, as a response to these simultaneous challenges, we have increasing involvement of civil society, surely encouraged by rising socio-economic differentiation. The middle classes are rapidly disappearing, and political parties are losing their distinct ideological profiles. Political parties are growing increasingly into ad hoc groupings around ambitious individuals who can unfortunately rather rarely be referred to as proper political leaders (who apply their power with a due level of responsibility).

While over the last two centuries political platforms were rightfully distinguished into Left and Right – now it would be probably more appropriate to divide them into sustainable (ethical), and non-sustainable (non-ethical). Namely, any policy which ignores the 3 aspects of sustainability (economic, environmental and social), is socially simply not acceptable, neither on purely rational, nor on ethical grounds. To put it as direct and simple as possible, the neoliberal economic and political doctrines actually confuse the means and the goals. No doubt that in a democratic setting the market mechanism and material rewards for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are essential and irreplaceable – at least for our phase of the evolutionary process. History has taught us that this motivates people most effectively to be productive, and thereby also contributes to the wellbeing and progress of the community. But, the function of the state is to make sure that material greed (in monetary economy it hardly knows any limit) does not degenerate into socially destructive behavior – harming members of the community by exploiting wage-earners and placing at the market products and services which manipulate the consumers. The responsibility of the government is to redistribute the created wealth fairly among all members of society by tax and other policies. The fact that presently the assets of 16 billionaires are bigger than 4 billion of less fortunate inhabitants of the planet speaks for itself.

Though nobody is perfect, there is a limited number of countries having achieved very sustainable systems: for example the 5 Nordic countries, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and a few others. It is encouraging, that this is being recognised worldwide, and motivates others to make progress in this direction.

For some time now all three aspects of sustainability (economy, environment, and social) are persistently indicating that humanity has little time to change radically. For example, already 1 million species are to become exinct, unless we immediately start changing the course. However, with all the alarming evidence being presented, we behave as the band at the sinking Titanic, bravely ignoring the approaching catastrophe.

How come that humanity is behaving so irresponsibly - ignoring the consequences of possible self-made destruction? Governments and political parties are of course the first to be blamed, followed by the media (for whom this is not sufficiently dramatic or sexy?). Science is also not active enough, and the NGOs have so far also achieved a rather modest impact.

Of all aspects of violated sustainability the environmental challenge seems to receive the most attention by the public, while politicians continue paying mostly lip-service. The problems of rapidly destroyed environment and drastically reduced biodiversity are most chocking, as they are more visible than others.

Scientists claim that if a major shift towards sustainability is not achieved in the next 10-15 years, the damage to the Earth will become irreparable. At the moment globally 7 million people die annually only because of air pollution. Two billion people are forced to use contaminated water sources – causing many deaths (close to a million a year only through diarrhea). And according to WHO by 2025 half of the world population will be facing a scarcity of water. These are all shocking prospects, of which we are at least partly aware, but very little is undertaken to save the planet from self-destruction. Even with the world in current lockdown, global carbon emissions have only fallen by ⅔ of what is needed each year.

The mainstream economic doctrine is still not liberated from the illusion of permanent GDP growth, and only a relatively weak voice is being heard, that human wellbeing and happiness are what really counts. More than half-century ago a pioneering contribution was made by the Bhutan Government's Centre for Bhutan Studies – by introducing the holistic Gross National Happiness Index, based on 33 indicators (including environment and biodiversity). The Western democratic paradigm seems to be failing a large majority of people, most of whom are not fully aware of it, and many feel unable to do anything – except by reacting with very low electoral participation. In a most recent survey in US even 80% of participants assessed that public interest is pushed aside by interests of the rich and powerful! Contradictions and tensions are rising, and there is still no credible and socially acceptable vision for the future. The common sense bottom line is: unsustainable behaviour is socially irresponsible, morally unacceptable, unhealthy, and not even economically justified (at least in the medium to long term). Proper levels of sustainability cannot be achieved without every single person (the rich and powerful included) adopting its principles and implementing them consistently in every situation, and in any societal role, particularly as political and corporate decision-makers.

Fortunately, awareness about the urgency of change is slowly starting to grow, and thousands of think tanks, civil society activist groups, associations and networks are emerging in all parts of the world – particularly in the advanced countries, where these contradictions are more recognised. The actual impact of these entities is still very limited, while last September's over 6,000 worldwide coordinated protests about environmental degradation by the youngsters have sent a clear message: there is no time left to be wasted – the young insist that we start behaving responsibly!

There are some efforts also in the corporate world. Over the last 20-25 years several groupings are bringing together CEOs of very powerful companies, such as former TNT head Peter Bakker – now president of World Business Council for Sustainable Development. He is declaring that Capitalism as we know it today is starting to lose its licence to operate. Instead of revolution, we need innovative and accelerated evolution towards better capitalism. An impressive voice of reason comes also from Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock – a 7 trillion Wall Street powerhouse, who is asking CEOs to clarify their purpose and contribute to society. He claims: Climate risk is investment risk. Acceptance of this approach is gaining support, recently also at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos. Another effort in this direction is made by Business for Social Responsibility, led by Aron Kramer.

For this vision to become reality, important changes are needed in our perception of future society – implying redefinition of our key values, and subjecting economic processes more consistently to principles of sustainability. In spite of the urgency, this may take at least a decade. But we don't have so much time! Many things have to be undertaken urgently, however without more respect for corporate social responsibility, and higher professionalism and transparency in politics – very little can be expected. And that is probably too little for preventing ecological breakdown, accompanied by economic collapse, and large scale violence, as a response to increasing socio-economic differentiation at global and country levels. What should be done to prevent such a highly undesirable and unacceptable scenario?

When creating the Knowledge Economy Network in Brussels back in 2011, its members expected that developing a knowledge economy offers all the necessary answers to our challenges. We don't believe this anymore, and this is why we are creating the Sustainability Network of Networks (SNN), which can contribute to a stronger impact of numerous networks, think tanks and associations – sharing concern for sustainability and corporate social responsibility – to accelerate the process of unavoidable change. This, we believe, can be partly achieved already within a few years.

A Task Force has been created, led by Professor Ramesh A. Mashelkar, Chair of the KEN International Advisory Board and famous Indian National Research Professor. The Task Force has positively evaluated this initiative in May, and after its approval by KEN General Meeting in June, the SNN Programme is now been launched.

As a modern, polycentric and non-hierarchical programme, the SNN is to encourage future partners to exchange information, as well as to connect and collaborate on a broader geographical basis for enhanced impact in their own environment and beyond. The main pillar of SNN will be an elaborate Internet-based Platform, through which groups will have access to information on specific actions that others are undertaking, learn from their argumentation, receive invitations to join, and pool their resources to achieve critical mass in carrying out important activities in favour of higher levels of sustainability. The Platform will disseminate information to Network members on a proactive basis – in response to their individual selection of topics – and through various types of two-way information on publications, conferences, events under preparation, etc.

Given the broad scope of topics to be covered, they will be grouped into 9 thematic domains, each being coordinated by a specialised Network Partner – taking into account also the geographical balance of the coordinators. These are the proposed domains – listed alphabetically:

  • Corporate management and entrepreneurship ecosystem;
  • Environment protection;
  • Gender issues and the role of Youth;
  • Green agriculture, smart village and food safety;
  • Health system, lifestyles and agreable longevity;
  • Human capital development – specially post-secondary education and LLL;
  • Innovation ecosystem, science and R&D;
  • Knowledge economy strategies, models and horizontal policy issues;
  • Sustainable urban environment, transport and infrastructure.

KEN Secretariat will perform primarily the function of technical coordination, with very limited, not fully-employed staff, responsible mostly for smooth dissemination of information among Network members, and supporting possible joint activities, as well as representing members in various international bodies. Network members will be receiving relevant information from around the globe, and if requested could benefit from advice of KEN Global Pool of Experts.

The dimensions of the problem

Mankind has probably never been confronted with such a big paradox as today: on one hand we are intensely and systematically destroying the planet, and managing our economies unsustainably (estimated 2 times over the planet's absorption capacity), while on the other hand, we have never had such potential - in knowledge, information, technology, communication and financial resources - to address these problems, by properly protecting our environment, and conducting economic activities more sustainably and socially responsible.

Just between 2015 and 2017, worldwide material consumption jumped from 87 to 92 billion tons (since 1970 even jumping for 254%). This reflects an increased demand for natural resources, resulting in an undue burden on the environment. Without urgent and concerted political action, it is projected that global resource extraction could grow to 190 billion tons by 2060, which science holds for totally unsustainable!

Material footprint per capita has increased considerably as well: in 1990 some 8.1 tons of natural resources were used to satisfy one person’s need, while in 2015, almost 12 tons of resources were extracted per person. This is a 50% increase in just 25 years, and if this trend continues, will reach 20-25 tons in 2030. Combined with the world population doubling since 1970, this is simply unsustainable!

We are causing drastic reductions in biodiversity through unacceptable pollution levels – responsible for numerous health risks, even deaths – with global warming and its impact already felt, being the inescapable consequence. Management of the most precious of all resources, human capital, is also very poor: presently more than 50% of the world’s school-age children (over 600 million) do not achieve minimum proficiency levels in mathematics and reading. Globally, including the most advanced countries, the skills gap is seriously increasing, since educational systems fail to adjust to the competence patterns of the present, let alone the future labour market.

Very few governments are capable of developing and implementing relevant strategies and select priorities. In spite of unparalleled progress in technology, our quality of life is going down, and individuals’ reactions are surprisingly timid and therefore unsuccessful. There are three main explanations for such attitudes: lack of awareness of the problems, outdated knowledge levels, and indifference. This is primarily due to insufficient encouragement and ineffective discouragement measures. It seems we have forgotten that no system can work efficiently without the proper “stick and carrot” mechanisms.

Why don't we act as necessary, to protect the legitimate interests of the present and future generations – while it is not too late and still possible? What are the reasons that we are not even recognising the urgency and the frightening dimensions of the problems? Most governments are not giving people the real picture, and many media are not professional enough to report in a way enabling people to become fully aware of the critical situation. Strangely enough, since they normally breed on shocking news. But, maybe this is considered too serious, even frightening to the degree that might push the readership away?

Nowadays the world is more connected than ever, people are far more educated, interest associations, networks and think tanks are blossoming, and there are numerous, well organised entities with clear objectives to stop or at least reduce this absurd behavior. And in spite of it all, very little of the required change is actually happening. This is true particularly in terms of political action, not only at international, but also at national and regional/local level. The recent Madrid Summit failure – with a huge destructive contribution of US President D.Trump – is only the most recent demonstration of the worrying state of affairs.

Not surprisingly, one could notice a familiar phenomenon: the higher we look at society, there is less readiness for change. Undoubtedly, we are failing also on democratic efficiency: one cannot disregard that democracy is being abused to serve the short-term interest of the powerful few. This is certainly not genuinely democratic, and somehow, all of this is being tolerated with an unbelievable level of complacency.

It cannot, however, be ignored that at various levels appeals are being made, and efforts are attempted to mobilise the political will for needed changes. Even among some of the billionaires, like Bill Gates – who also contributes to reducing the problems of young Africans – appeals are being made for more responsibility in terms of sustainability.

Two years ago the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, emphasizing the urgency of the situation, and defining the road to sustainability. However, Secretary General Antonio Guterres raised his voice in January expressing his frustration at the dysfunction within the UN system, and its inability to act swiftly and energetically to bring about the necessary paradigm-shifting reforms. He declared that the UN was unacceptably off-track to continue its job of poverty reduction, gender equality, climate survival, peacekeeping, health protection, and to pursue other key measures of international prosperity. A new plan of radical reform is desperately needed, and it should begin with proper attention to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Contrary to the mainstream permanent GDP growth paradigm (interpreted as a condition for and indicator of progress), on the Kingdom of Bhutan’s initiative, the UN General Assembly – with support of 68 member states - adopted in 2011 a resolution calling for a “holistic approach to development”. The following April a UN High-Level Meeting on “Happiness and Wellbeing in a New Economic Paradigm” was held in order to develop a new economic paradigm based on sustainability and wellbeing.

One cannot escape the impression that, given these circumstances, a kind of conspiracy theory (probably with most actors completely, or at least partly unconscious) could help us understand the background of the serious crisis.

Who could be the more conscious conspirators – could it be anyone else but the most influential part of society? Obviously, these are primarily the rich and powerful, determining the laws and regulations serving very often primarily their own selfish and short term interests. Unfortunately, most of them do not recognise it, and perceive their position as fully legitimate and the only feasible. Therefore, logically, they are resisting any paradigm changes determining ways in which our economies are being managed and our daily lives being (mis)conducted. We are talking about the powerful political elites with their ministers and presidents in charge of daily government business. And then there is primarily the big business, being often rather slow in adopting new technologies – trying to maximise the ROI by exploiting the existing technologies, and often largely ignoring the harmful impact of those technologies on the consumers and the environment.

There is abundant evidence that these elites are responsible for the dismal state of affairs, and they are more successful in pursuing their short-term interests, the less genuinely democratic context they operate in. This is evaluated very clearly in the case of the USA by Matt Stoller, research director at the American Economic Liberties Project in his recent book Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.

Fortunately, there are honorable exceptions: Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock (managing nearly 7 trillion in assets) – who has been reminding the big CEOs for some time about their societal responsibility – has made another important step in the direction of actively supporting sustainable investment and management. He went well beyond recognising climate change as a consequence of global warming, insisting that environmental considerations are an important aspect of risk assessment. He decided to remove BlackRock capital from companies which get more than 25% of their revenue from thermal coal production. This is a good example of the application of the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria, but therefore Mr. Fink is for some Americans defending “corporate socialism”!

There is no surprise that the highly democratic countries, and simultaneously efficient and competitive economies are doing better than others, and their elites are more committed to socially responsible behavior than in most other countries around the globe. The more genuinely democratic a country is, the more sustainably it behaves in business and management of its resources – including human capital! It is that simple and straight forward.

But, it should be remembered that the conspirators cannot win alone, they need, and actually do have many active and passive collaborators. Unfortunately, they always find plenty of candidates for the required active roles in politics, business, the media, and even in science and the arts! But the biggest numbers of mostly unconscious collaborators are in the passive category: this is most of us, millions of naive electorate and consumers, tolerating and practically contributing to ecological downgrading of our planet. Also, we are (re)electing irresponsible politicians, tolerate their problematic and often non-transparent behavior, as well as consuming problematic products and services. Mostly unconsciously, we are practicing irresponsible, environmentally destructive and unsustainable consumption patterns, and ways of life: in advanced economies wasting 1/3 of all food, unnecessarily using tons of plastics, failing in recycling waste, and failing to follow the common sense principles of green, and circular economy.

Many people are becoming increasingly aware that things must be changed, but don't manage to get out of the connect with like-minded groups to reach critical mass, which could have the strength to get out of the vicious circle. There are many activists and volunteers – doing whatever they can – but the majority of people accept the position that nothing can be done, and it isn't worth the effort -- as if really nothing could be done. This also serves as an excuse for actually doing nothing, and simply going along the false avenue – though many people are at least occasionally aware that we are driving in the wrong direction. At the same time it shouldn't be forgotten that changes in our behavior must start with each individual, and on a daily basis. Actually, due to the fragmentation of lobbying efforts for sustainable growth and socially responsible management, as well as lack of connections between numerous positive initiatives, the general impression prevails that rather little, if anything essential is being achieved.

However, this is not necessarily and completely the right impression. Namely, there are literally thousands of various networks, associations, pressure groups, and think tanks, trying to mobilise people, exerting pressure and lobbying relevant authorities, by publishing and disseminating relevant information about the urgency of sustainability issues. Their objectives are: alerting people about the problems and needed changes, exerting pressure - including through the media - on responsible politicians and business managers, and organising activities which should facilitate adequate legislation, administrative and business decisions to be sustainable.

Unfortunately, the overall impact of these activities is rather modest, and here are the main reasons for the insufficient impact of presently ongoing lobbying activities:

  • Instead of using a complex science approach, problems tend to be presented through isolated segments – largely ignoring their integral nature.
  • Arguments are often articulated poorly – without demonstrating implications upon various social groups and each individual.
  • The pressure on decision-makers is missing sufficiently articulated and practically formulated demands, and showing the expected positive impact.
  • The profile and structure of demandeurs are not strong and representative enough, and therefore risking not to be taken seriously.
  • The demandeurs are remaining too isolated, at local, or at the best national level.
  • Leaders of pressure groups are sometimes using inadequate methods of work, and consequently reducing the potential impact of respective activities.
  • Modest networking and weak international coordination among potential partners and supporters with complementary objectives.

There is undoubtedly a little bit of everything in most situations, but one fact could be the most important: if the existing networks could interact more intensely and systematically, their impact at all levels would certainly be much stronger.

Are we moving towards possible solutions?

Things should and can be changed, though certainly not quickly and easily. The question is: how can at least some of the passive observers become agile activists for change, or at least their determined supporters and followers – in line with their very own, and the legitimate interests shared by most members of society?

It is absolutely essential to inform people in very real terms about the present situation, major trends and the broader implications of the unfavourable scenario, if we decide to remain passive. It is necessary to present the concrete impact of global warming and irresponsible environment degradation on the quality of life for each of us in the next 5-10 years. This information must be presented in a highly professional, non-sensationalistic way, in order to be received as fair and credible. Otherwise, isolated and exaggerated facts and figures can be counterproductive, and people will treat them as populist propaganda (this is currently sometimes the impression). Actually, the NGOs are often presenting facts in a populist fashion, trying to quickly obtain public support – while they underestimate the capacity and motivation of people to learn something new and complex. As a consequence, most people remain inactive, though complaining, which is not helping anyone.

At the moment the official, government information is often not systematically and professionally presented, as many governments are trying to reduce anticipated pressure from the electorate to act more swiftly and responsibly. Additionally, governments easily coordinate their policies, share experiences and even learn from each other.

This looks almost like mission impossible for the NGOs, networks and associations. However, this is starting to change, slowly-but-surely, and the recent Youth Movement has achieved an unprecedented level of coordination and operational success. Also, the very phenomenon of Greta Thunberg is symbolising the increasing determination of present-day young generation, which is very promising. In growing numbers they are ready to participate actively in opening the environmental sustainability debate at the domestic, international, and global level. A most impressive series of protest activities during the week of 20-27 September 2019, under the name of The Global Week for Future has been recognised as the largest protest in the history of mankind (about 6,000 protests in over 150 countries, bringing together some 8 million young people – and the action received support from over 2,000 scientists from 40 countries).

Under these conditions the prospects for a successful opening of the debate and intensifying the legitimate lobbying are much greater, and the recent failure of the Madrid Summit should not discourage anyone who is aware of the importance of the issues, and the reasons behind.

Of course our concern is not only the environment, but the whole range of issues of sustainable development and socially responsible business management. These are strongly interrelated aspects of the same complex problem, which we should be addressing on a daily basis, as well as strategically. Let us not forget that an important part of the challenge is our old-fashioned mindset, and our traditional ways and habits, which have to be adjusted to the present situation of an overcrowded planet, with quickly aging population, lack of socio-economic cohesion, depletion of some resources, underutilisation of others (like hydro and solar energy), growing socio-economic and regional disparities – all covered by the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Over the last few years the potential of global interaction among various NGO actors has been gradually ever more utilized – in various ways and fashions, but not yet necessarily by connecting all relevant networks.

Probably the largest network platform at present is the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform - created by the UN Secretariat, linked to SDG 2030, and covering 17 SDG areas, covered globally by altogether 14,776 partners (not strictly defined as networks or even legal persons, but including also programs and initiatives), who have published 1,008 publications. KEN is also a partner in this platform.

Of particular interest is the 29-year old Programme on Think Tanks and Civil Societies at the Lauder Institute, University of Pennsylvania. They are systematically studying think tanks around the globe and have a 1,796 strong Panel of Peers. For their Global Go To Think Tank Index Survey for 2019 they invited 45,969 individuals and institutions to complete the Survey, with 21,608 of them participating. They produced the ranking of 8,248 think tanks, with interesting observations and conclusions.

Some networks are created for bringing people-powered politics into decision making worldwide. Such is the case with AVAAZ, an Ottawa-based global network, exerting pressure particularly on institutions when they are disregarding human rights, by collecting petitions and pushing respective institutions to correct their mistakes (e.g.: a court in Somalia decided that a rape victim was herself responsible for the act – corrected the verdict after receiving some 30,000 signatures of AVAAZ petitioners).

Another example is Intercept a New York-based service reporting cases of media abuse in the US to a wide global readership, exerting pressure on those responsible, and alerting the public to manipulative media, who are serving particular, often socially destructive interests.

In order to win the ambitious battle to re-establish global sustainability, we should all intensify our attention at what is being done by the authorities at the regional, national and international level. Sufficient lobbying pressure should be created and executed consistently, by letters to our MPs, debates, and even strikes and protests when necessary. This lobbying pressure should be based on scientifically sound proposals offered to, or rather thrown at politicians, with demands for immediate and undivided attention, leading to transparent and consensual decisions – and protecting the legitimate public interest by achieving acceptable levels of sustainability.

In the document of the European Network for Rural Development (Connecting Rural Europe, November 2012) – based on published literature on networking, there are at least 10 types of networks:

  • Informal and formal networks;
  • Vertical and horizontal networks;
  • Networks of Practice/Communities of Practice;
  • Hierarchical networks;
  • Peer-to-peer networks;
  • Knowledge/learning networks;
  • Territorial networks;
  • Communities of identity;
  • Administrative networks;
  • Policy networks.

Networks are categorised here by various criteria: origin, purpose, emphasis of activity, internal organisation, type of members, linkage to external environment etc. Many networks could be classified under more than one of the above listed typology criteria. Anyway, the typology serves to remind us of elements determining the nature of each network. An important element determining the functioning of a network is its institutional and financial independence.

The literature on networks of networks is at the moment still rather limited, and predominantly related to ICT networks, and concerned with primarily technical issues, which is not applicable for the Sustainability Network of Networks being launched by KEN.

Let us look at the general picture of the international networking landscape in the domains of sustainability, environment and knowledge economy.

Based on our research, so far, the following types of sustainability networks have been identified:

  • Governmental Agencies Networks in various domains of sustainability - for example, Network for Greening the Financial System, NGFS which is bringing together representatives of 30 Central banks, serviced by the Banque de France;
  • Companies Networks supporting sustainability and social responsibility – for example, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the Business for Social Responsibility;
  • Civil Society Associations/Networks focussed on various domains of sustainability – for example, Center for Knowledge Societies, and AVAAZ;
  • Academic Research & Consultancy Networks – including under and postgraduate study programmes on sustainability, for example, The League of European Research Universities, LERU; and Sustainability Research Network – being part of Common Ground Research Network, at University of Illinois;
  • Sustainability Business Consulting Networks – providing consulting services on market terms, for example, Innovation for Sustainable Development Network;
  • Foundations supporting sustainability, knowledge, green and circular economy – for example, Korean Green Growth Trust Fund;
    Sustainability Certification Networks – for example, SustainAbility linked to ISO, and the ISEAL Alliance having created the VSS system: Voluntary Sustainability Standards.

The structure of activities being performed by various networks is strongly diversified, but they all are involved in positive activism and lobbying, some also in publishing and public advocacy, many in research and even teaching/training, as well as in the exchange of knowledge and experience. Only a smaller part of their efforts is devoted to influencing authorities through advocacy and lobbying. Much of their costs are covered by donations – some also have membership fees. Some also provide to their members and beyond some consultancy and other services on a commercial or semi-commercial basis.

Towards the Sustainability Network of Networks

The proposed SNN Programme, launched as a programme of KEN (itself registered as an international non-profit association in Brussels since January 2011), is a response to the challenges described above. SNN is to help the civil society community, as well as business, education and research organisations – as well as legislative and executive branches of power – to respond more proactively and more efficiently in the domains of sustainable development, including the domain of knowledge (including science, R&D, innovation and education and training). Sustainability is not a purely economic, rational, scientific concept. It has much to do with societal values (solidarity, socio-economic cohesion, inclusiveness, and the very purpose of life: peoples' happiness – which the liberal economic school fails to introduce into formulas of efficiency and the ROI principle).

More recently, the reaction to such a simplified approach to life, is growing – triggered primarily by the realisation of the unacceptable damage caused to our habitat, including the biosphere. Therefore the time has come to encourage and facilitate more interaction among active and like-minded associations and networks at the global level, supporting them to be more effective in creating a noticeable impact than ever before.

What is to be the added value of SNN Programme on top of the existing activities of numerous networks and associations around the globe:

  • Firstly, in line with its complex and holistic orientation, it will connect all types of entities - going beyond the traditional separation between politics and business, society and environment, and the macro from the micro perspective – all these separations being rather outdated today;
  • Secondly, its primary objective will be to increase awareness of various decision-makers and stakeholders about the urgency to achieve higher levels of sustainability, and on the request of its partners and members, will help them organise some joint activities and events – for bigger impact;
  • Thirdly, it will develop a system of sustainability self-evaluation for various types of organisations, accompanied by some certificates of distinction to be awarded to partners and members for exceptional contributions to sustainable performance;
  • Fourthly, it will encourage members to pool resources in legitimate lobbying and effective pressure upon relevant authorities to achieve necessary regulatory and policy reforms – needed for greater sustainability.

The SNN Programme is going to function in a strictly horizontal and totally non-hierarchical fashion. Participation of the KEN/SNN partners and members in various joint activities is to be completely voluntary. The SNN political platform will remain politically totally independent from any associated organisation, and at the same time broad and general enough to attract as many organisations as possible.

It is being noticed that many of the efforts conducted by the existing organisations are either:

  • conceptually insufficiently holistic, limited to only one or some issues relevant to a restricted domain of sustainability or territory;
  • methodologically inappropriate in terms of lobbying techniques – required for a specific and successful campaign;
  • incomplete in the proposed operational focus on the requested changes in the respective domain(s).

None of the above situations are optimal, and since there is usually little association with similar organisations in the immediate, let alone geographically more distant context, the impact usually remains rather limited. The SNN should contribute to addressing all three of these concerns by helping its members to increase their impact locally and far beyond.

The presently available ICT facilitates more productive communication, regular contacts and collaboration among various types of networks and associations, with shared and mutually enriching substance. Knowing more about what others are reflecting, researching, planning and undertaking in a practical sense, can be productive and motivating. Sometimes it can lead to joining forces in shared activities. This makes them much more effective vis-a-vis their own constituencies, and collectively much stronger in the international arena (in this context 2 + 2 could result in making 5!). Productive links, regular communication and active collaboration – let alone common activities and joined requests – make these entities all of a sudden a very different international actor, being noticed, registered, and hopefully also respected by various authorities, from the local to the international level. This network of networks could become a game-changer, via creating a virtual global community of entities engaged in the mentioned domains, and a very different negotiating partner to various authorities in their context.

The sustainability problem is very wide and complex. As already mentioned therefore it will be covered by the SNN Programme through 9 Thematic Domains (TD) – listed at page 4. Each of the nine domains will be hosted by one SNN Partner – supported by additional 2-3 Partners (specialised in parts of the respective thematic domain), and coordinated by a Team of Thematic Experts, TTE (up to 5 people from specialised SN partners/members, plus some independent experts-advisers) from various parts of the globe, to be chaired by Domain Chair, DC, an internationally recognised expert in the respective domain, and supported as Domain Secretary, DS associated to the SNN partner hosting the particular Thematic Domain.

Each Domain Team will elaborate in the first 2-3 months of operation a classification of sub-topics in the domain (preferably not more than 10 items), and start an online bibliography (to be constantly updated) – both to be posted on the KEN portal. Below is a presentation of the information matrix designed for communication among the Network associates:

Matrix of communication within the Sustainability Network of Networks
Besides this information, also the KEN online periodical publications will be distributed to all members: Monthly Bulletin, Weekly Brief, and Occasional Brief on health and medical innovation bibliographic bulletin - compiled by prof.dr.Stephen Minger.

The activities and collaboration among Network members will be supported by the Technical Secretariat primarily through the following services:

  • Information on international developments in domains of sustainability and knowledge economy/society;
  • Qualified insight into sustainability good practice and success stories around the globe;
  • Training on specialised lobbying techniques and communication management;
  • Expert opinion on initiatives of Network members - upon request;
  • Consultations by KEN Global Expert Pool to help partners and members to resolve specific problems;
  • Supporting campaigns vs. decision-making bodies and institutions – upon request;
  • Effective communication with international media to promote the cause of global sustainability;
  • Representing partners and members in relevant international bodies and institutions;
  • Providing contact information on entities active in respective sustainability thematic domains around the globe – facilitating cooperation and joint activities;
  • Providing links to the most important international and national reports and studies, through an interactive and constantly updated bibliography;
  • Announcements of relevant international conferences, including those organised by Network members;
  • Dissemination of relevant international statistics on sustainability domains.

The primary service of the SNN Programme to its partners and members should be the provision of selected and highly relevant information on sustainability developments (problems and encouraging novelties), and actors introducing the good practice. It will also offer invitations to join some international actions (awareness-raising, petitions, etc) which will gain specific weight through their reputation, a sheer number of participants, and their geographical scope.

The SNN Programme is proposed to be a true Network of Networks, connecting entities engaged in various aspects of sustainable development, environment protection, and knowledge economy/society. Though it is difficult to anticipate any numbers, it is expected that within less than a year the Network should develop an impressive membership, covering all continents and various profiles of organisations. Though the majority of the membership is expected to be NGOs, companies seeking to improve their sustainable management, relevant government agencies, and associations will be welcome in the Programme as well. Networks and associations are expected to become KEN Partners, while their own members will gain on that basis the Associate membership rights.

The table below summarises the rights and obligations of Sponsors, Partners, Members, and Associate members of the Network:

The rights and obligations of Sponsors

The contribution expected from the SNN Activities

What could be the value-added in terms of the additional impact the activities of the SNN would bring? Functioning as a network of networks, the Programme is expected to help partners and members to enhance their individual activities, and encourage their collaboration creating a bigger, combined impact, which could be expected through the following:

  • Broader awareness among additional people of the urgency to lobby and put pressure on responsibles to start appropriate action (legislation, administrative decisions, appointments for critically important public offices, etc.);
  • Improved lobbying techniques and sharper argumentation (supportive facts and figures) in campaigns and communications, making the pressure of SNN members in line with public interest more effective;
  • Motivation to act – being encouraged by success stories of other members elsewhere;
  • Mobilisation of larger numbers of individuals to reach the required critical mass expressing their opinion and demands – being encouraged by similar achievements elsewhere;
  • Receiving unexpected third partner support resulting in a larger impact of individual activities;
  • Being themselves motivated to behave more sustainably.

In its role as the Network of Networks, the SNN Programme will develop its activities as requested by its partners and members - it will function primarily as their service in our join battle for a more sustainable global future.