Can sustainability become unethical? An article by Prof. Seele on the NZZ


Institutional Communication Service

25 November 2019

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung has published the article “Kann Nachhaltigkeit unethisch Can sustainability become unethical?” by Peter Seele, head of an SNSF project on "Greenwashing", and professor of business ethics at USI. In the piece Seele talks about the conflict between sustainability and freedom that can arise from a proclaimed "climate emergency".

"Despite proven scientific findings on climate change and the growing demand for sustainability, today we are still faced with human inertia and the lack of effective tools to act against the harmful influence of men on the planet". Professor Seele opens his analysis on the political and social turmoil around climate change, highlighting a fundamental contrast: although it is positive that "11,000 scientists, who do not have legislative or executive power, ask in unison for the proclamation of a climate emergency, based on their scientific knowledge, driven by moral obligations", when the state of emergency is declared by actors who have those powers - states, cantons and municipalities a problem of ethical nature arises.

As mentioned by Seele, to date, 10 states, 13 Swiss cities and municipalities, 62 German cities and 7 Austrians have declared climate emergency. This is certainly in favour of sustainability, but it leads to a strong ethical controversy, because "the declaration of climate emergency by public authorities opens up the possibility of bypassing the current laws and regulations and the freedom they guarantee". A conflict between sustainability and freedom: in this way we risk limiting the very concept of democracy. The measures taken, although based on sound principles aimed at protecting the planet for future generations, can become a "morally questionable programme, lead by ambiguous institutions”. The paradox explained by Seele is as follows: "those who not only claim sustainability, but also rigorously implement it, come across a conflict between fundamental values", which endangers open and democratic societies as well as the symbolic climate crisis.


The full article by Peter Seele is available at the following link link: