When it comes to building a sustainable future, we continually see great plans being made. There is one glaring problem; they continually fall short on the most important part, the execution.

In 2005, the financial sector initiative “Who Cares Wins” put forward key objectives and targets for the integration of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors across all stakeholders. Fifteen years later, we are finally starting to see some real momentum behind the integration of ESG, but we are still a long way from where we need to be.

Then in 2015, leaders from 193 countries created a plan called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 goals and 169 targets, to make the world a better place by 2030. “The Goals and targets will stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet”. A third of the way in and the plan is off track.

There were other lofty plans; like the 1997 Kyoto protocol. Ex-Uruguayan President José “Pepe” Mujica has described the failure of the Kyoto protocol as shameful, directly calling out world leaders for their failure to take the actions needed.

Still, what else to do but make another plan with even bigger goals and targets. The sad reality is that the targets keep getting more audacious because the scale of the challenges keep increasing due to the failure to meet the previous targets. The 2015 SDGs are beyond lofty considering previous failures.

“This set of 17 goals imagines a future just 15 years off that would be rid of poverty and hunger, and safe from the worst effects of climate change.”

World leaders are clearly very good at making plans; there is no shortage of imagination.

There is also always a great show around the announcement of any plan, with every leader vying for their moment in the limelight. To plan is deemed a success. Unfortunately, it is the execution of these plans where they continue to fall short.

It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry Seinfeld arrives to pick up the car he reserved. The desk attendant informs Jerry that the car he reserved is unavailable.

Jerry: I don’t understand. Do you have my reservation? I made a reservation.

Attendant: Yes, we do. Unfortunately, we ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That is why you have the reservation.

Attendant: I know why we have reservations.

Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that is really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.

That is my fundamental issue with the continued failure to meet grandiose plans. These leaders know how to make plans. They just don’t know how to execute those plans. And that really is the most important part of the plan, the execution. Anybody can just make them.

That 2030 future imagined is now only 10 years off. Soon it will be time to start making another plan.


Vincent McCarthy, CFA

(Article featured in latest issue of “The ESG Factor”, the ESG Ireland quarterly newsletter developed to provoke thought and motivate action on ESG and sustainability. Subscribe: Insights@ESG.ie

Link: Jerry Seinfeld The car reservation