Section 2.6: Welcome to the Anthropocene – It’s all about humans

It is undeniable that human activity has influenced and fundamentally altered the planet. Our influence has impacted every aspect of Earth, from its ecosystems and geochemistry to its atmosphere and deepest oceans.  These effects are now so strong that many have argued that we are entering a new geological epoch, in which humans are the major driving force, known as the Anthropocene Era .

Labeling this era as the Anthropocene puts humans in the center of all activities and processes on Earth. This might seem a little egoistic, but actually it is a useful idea because it means that as well as being the major driver of changes, humans are viewed as the source of finding solutions to issues of sustainability.

In the Anthropocene, it is you and I who can effect change, foster awareness of global issues, and shape future action for a meaningful, positive outcome. 

To do so, we need collaboration not only across all human systems, such as governments, companies, and local communities, but also across social and ecological systems. We need to engage in multi-level governance and interconnected solutions. This is precisely what the United Nations aimed to do in a global conference on sustainable development in 2015.

This short video illustrates the notion of the Anthropocene, its challenges and the potential opportunities available for us: The Anthropocene Period and its Challenges.

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In 2015, the United Nations and associated countries adopted a set of guiding aims to:

– End poverty
– Protect the planet
– Ensure prosperity for all

These aims were broken down into 17 specific goals to be achieved by 2030, seen in the graphic below:


As you can no doubt see, these broad challenges are highly interdependent and must be addressed in a coherent, coordinated fashion. We cannot just try to solve one problem, because they often transcend national boundaries and require collective efforts between governments, international organizations, corporations, universities, non-government organizations as well as innovative individuals.

For this class, I encourage you to explore each of the 17 sustainable development goals. Think about how each of these goals is relevant to business and industry.

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries (2017)

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries acts as a compass for human progress this century.  The environmental ceiling consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al., beyond which lie unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems. The twelve dimensions of the social foundation are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards, as identified by the world’s governments in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

Supplementary Resources

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019

The Future is now – Science for Achieving Sustainable Development

Aloisi de Larderel “Sustainable Development – The Role of Business” 

International Chamber of Commerce ” Business Charter for Sustainable Development”

Forbes Article “Sustainable Business and Sustainable Development – Same coin, Two sides”

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