“Business as usual won’t get the job done — and sustainability as usual won’t suffice.”
A new report by BSR, a global non-profit working on sustainable business transformation, takes 25 years of experience and provides directions for the development of the business community into the future.
According to the authors of The Future of Sustainable Business, “business as usual won’t get the job done — and sustainability as usual won’t suffice. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, build truly fair and inclusive economic growth, and navigate a radically reshaped world, it is time for change … Businesses that thrive in the future will be those that figure out how to harness these changes to address real human needs — placing sustainability at the heart of business strategy”.
The report stresses the importance of questions business leaders choose to seek answers for, suggesting avenues for thought: how to create business models that consider environmental limits, what will change for sustainability with the spread of augmented and virtual realities, how will consumer preferences shift with increasing incomes in the global south and what will this mean for sustainability, how can companies become driving forces for transition when the pace of government action doesn’t suffice?
The report revolves around innovation within business agendas, approaches and advocacy, focusing on three major themes — climate change, technology and structural economic change, which are believed to dominate global debates.
As regards climate change, building climate resilience comes to the forefront. No matter how much a company depends on natural resources and where it is situated, at some point everyone, including its employees and assets, might become exposed to extreme weather events, water scarcity or other climate-related setbacks. This requires companies to engage in building the climate resilience of local communities and collaborate with other stakeholders on mitigation efforts to get better prepared and more confident in action in the face of uncertainty.
The technological debate touches on issues of balancing benefits in terms of health, contentedness, efficiency with the compromises that we will face in regards to human rights, ethics, identity and security. Technology evolves faster than norms and companies will have important roles in building consensus around climate innovations that have yet to gain wide public acceptance (i.e. climate engineering), protecting human rights within increased global access to personal information and fair distribution of access to the most innovative discoveries within healthcare and other fields among diverse global populations, without increasing inequality and causing segregation.
Finally, automation is going to play a critical role in the structural economic transformation, as profound as the shift from agricultural to industrial society. What this will mean for the jobs, human well-being and meaning, when millions of people will suddenly lose their value to the economy? How can companies help avoid the catastrophe, or even — how can they use the shift to support transition to a more sustainable and flourishing economy? And what will automation mean for sustainability in general, how will it influence consumption habits and our relationships with the world, created by machines?
As a general response, the report suggests thinking beyond short-term financial gains and considering sustainability not just as a fancy add-on strategy to sweeten the pie for consumers but as a core strategy. Businesses should become advocates and forerunners of a more sustainable and equitable planet as this is what will determine if there is a livable planet on which they themselves can thrive in the first place.