Trust Is Essential for a Sustainable Future

If judged exclusively by the front page news, distrust within society is accelerating. While the Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, and London Riots are now distant and seemingly isolated in time, there remains a strong undercurrent of irreverence and distrust within the global populous. It does not help that spy-scandals, security breaches, product safety recalls, data leaks, identity theft, financial insecurity, and geo-political unrest have escalated in recent months.

The foundation of all human relationships is trust. Without trust, people lose faith. Trust is the "soft indicator" of society; however it has very hard and fast implications for humanity. The 7.3 billion people occupying the planet today represent the Sustainability Generation. Together we each have a role and responsibility, as individual citizens and consumers, to earn and bestow trust among each other.

Trust requires mutuality, however there continues to be a growing division throughout the world on a number of issues that require common understanding. Political, religious, and ideological factions seem to be multiplying and intensifying, particularly as people are increasingly confronted with moral, ethical, and spiritual obligations that challenge conventional wisdom and preconceived beliefs. Our current generation diverges philosophically, politically, and pragmatically on global concerns such as climate change, land use restrictions, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), access to clean and potable water, the proliferation of weapons, fighting hunger and disease, poverty, and people trafficking.

Like the axiom, "it takes a village to feed a family," it takes a generation of committed individuals to actualize the impact of sustainability. There are as many definitions and points-of-view of sustainability as there are people in the world. So how can humanity come together on key issues, become mobilized, and take action toward a more sustainable future? In a word, trust.

Trust is what keeps money flowing, businesses hiring, public parks open, hospitals serving, government governing, and families together. Every single human transaction we make on a daily basis represents trust events. Whether we are picking up the kids from school, dropping of a meal to someone in need, delivering news to our boss, making a payment on a bill, buying a cup of coffee or a new car, we exercise trust. Trust is more than a commitment; it is a bond between two or more individuals or parties.

We have come to rely on trust so much that it is also one of the most vulnerable at-risk and highly exposed elements of humanity. Trust delivers electricity, water, and food. Trust keeps bridges and tunnels in good working condition. Trust flies planes. Trust manages trillions of dollars of financial assets. Trust cares for and teaches our children. Trust protects those that cannot protect themselves. Trust is omnipresent in society; it is the underlying bond between and among humans that allows us to live.

As such, trust has manifested itself into the products, technologies, services, and systems that comprise our physical world which we interface with each day. Our power grid, the Internet, energy and transportation infrastructure, the global economy, National Security and Defense, and public policy and entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are a sample of the representative "systems" that we put an enormous amount of faith into. Additionally, freedom and democracy are built on a foundation of trust. Systems have become so complex that trust in others is essential for survival; at least if we choose to keep the systems we have come to rely on for food, shelter, security, and governance in place.

The systems which humanity has become dependent upon are in flux. On one hand, newer and more efficient and productive technologies is upgrading or altogether replacing infrastructure from the past. The utility, transportation, and telecommunications industries are going through this transition. For some businesses the change is painful, yet there are companies leading this transformation.

The rise of crowdsourcing for funding start-ups to drawing support for massive political and community engagement represents an example of how the current generation is leveraging the power of social media and the Internet toward new models of trust building within society. Traditionally elections were won through a formula of rhetoric plus one or two channels of exposure such as print advertising and television appearances. Good rhetoric plus exposure equaled the perception of trust, and ultimately, votes.

Today's asymmetric communications capabilities require those aspiring for public office to be authentic and transparent in a larger sample of channels encompassing greater visibility and a much more swift and significant margin of error than in the past. Building and maintaining trust in today's fast paced and non-forgiving media world requires patience, humility, and a steadfast commitment to long-term relationship building.

The era of sound bites remains in-tact. However, people are much less forgiving if there is any perception of mistrust. Part of the issue is that social media is an instant access and tell all platform that is non-forgiving. If you are not responding to an event as it occurs you might as well be obsolete in the minds of the public. This is an unfortunate yet realistic state of affairs for political, business, and spiritual leaders. It is important to be aware of how trust can be reinforced through social media and contemporary communications. However, it is equally to be mindful of how these communications outlets can be misguided and misused inappropriately. Our perceptions of trust in society are also changing. As trust is essential to how humans relate, engage, work, and live, we need to better understand the role of trust in society.

Humanity is in a hyper-schizophrenic state of affairs. The accelerated rate of adopting new technologies such as the use of drones has created new-age moral questions around privacy, safety, and security. Yet we also know that drones and many other technologies stand to help humanity fight disease, wage the war on terrorism, and help us better assess ecological systems globally. If we assume all companies, governments, religions, innovators, doctors, attorneys, and so on are distrustful, while then we might as well close up shop right here and now.

The honest truth is that we need to trust each other during this societal and generational transition and transformation leading us from the Anthropocene toward humanity's next era of convergence. I for one believe this new era is being shaped to have a focus on environmental stewardship and a post-carbon economy that values sustainable development they way prior generations valued economic development. But whether this new era is called sustainable, lean, green, clean, divergent, convergent, resilient or restorative one thing needs to be in place, trust. Without trust our generation will continue toward a disconcerting fate that is not in the best interest of any individual, business, nation, or religion.

While this is far idealistic, it is time to call a truce and time out. The fate of humanity and that of the earth are one in the same. The question is whether humans can harness the power of trust to envision and realize a shared fate that values each individual equally, and which honors other life on earth. Our time is up. It is time to trust!