The following are my remarks from the Erb Institute Community Dinner, which took place on September 25th, 2015.  This posting first appeared as part of the Perspective Blog from the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute; you can read the original post here

Our Erb Institute community dinner coincides with some big news out of New York. Earlier today, the United Nations announced their post-2015 development agenda, which includes 17 Goals for Sustainable Development.

Many of us came to our work on sustainability in Erb because of our concern for the environment, and six of the sustainable development goals reflect this:

1. Protecting plant, animal, and microbial life on land;
2. Protecting plant, animal, and microbial life under the water;
3. Responsible consumption and production;
4. Sustainable cities and communities;
5. Affordable, and importantly, clean energy; and
6. Meaningful action on climate change.

But this leaves 11 additional Goals for Sustainable Development that we, as members of the Erb Institute must also consider when it comes to our own work:

7. Eliminating poverty;
8. Eliminating hunger;
9. Promoting global health and well-being;
10. Providing access to quality education;
11. Ensuring equality for all people regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation;
12. Reducing social and economic inequality between and within countries;
13. Unfettered access to clean water and sanitation;
14. Access to fair and honest work, and opportunities for economic growth;
15. Developing resilient infrastructure, and sustainable and innovative industrialization;
16. Promoting just, peaceful, and inclusive societies; and
17. Revitalizing partnerships so that these goals can be achieved.

What do these goals mean to me as the Faculty Director of the Erb Institute?  Well, they are heartening because, sustainability is our mission. When it comes to the transition toward sustainability, enterprise — large and small — has an important role to play.

I personally do not accept the Friedman-istic notion that consumers are the dog, and enterprise is the tail. Instead, when it comes to the role of business in advancing the sustainability agenda, I share the view of the great philosopher, Stan Lee, who wrote in his 1962 book — entitled Amazing Fantasy #15 — that, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

But, if as an institute we look to business to “do better”, we must also ask ourselves to do better. This means working collectively toward Sustainable Development Goals one through six, and, importantly, goals seven to seventeen.

Regardless of how focused we are on individual aspects of a problem, we must remind ourselves to take the broad view of sustainability, and one which looks at the relationship between people and planet from a systems perspective. We need to broaden our gaze to problems and opportunities around the world, and not only in our backyard.

As I’ve gotten to know you, I know you think this way. But, to really do it, we must accept the fact that we all have a lot to learn. The answers to our questions will come from all kinds of people, and from all kinds of places; so we need to be on the lookout for them as effective and credible people of science. And, we need to be on the lookout for them as humble and respectful listeners.

We also must recognize that we will be judged not only by what we know, or what we think, or what we say; we will be judged most critically by what we do and how we behave.

So, as we embark on this new academic year, these are challenges that I am posing to the Erb Institute as a whole. However, I also think we’d be wise to wake up every morning, and pose these same challenges to ourselves as individuals.