“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” – Robert Swan
Everywhere one seems to turn nowadays you hear the rising roar of sustainable action and its call to arms for us as individuals, Corporations and society in general. The idea of sustainability grew from numerous environmental movements in earlier decades – Summits such as the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992, were the catalyst for bringing sustainable development to the mainstream and the International community and thank god for them.
However, over the last thirty years I have been lucky to have criss-crossed the globe and, in my view, the record on moving the sustainability movement forward has been somewhat protracted and poor. The concept of sustainability means many different things to different people from –
- Climate change
- Food production
- Water scarcity
- Changing demographics
- Geopolitical instability
- The global development agenda
- Inequality and global equity
but whatever it means to you today, we still live in a world where a large part of humanity lives without access to basic necessities. Nearly a billion people live without access to clean water or electricity; around 35% of the world’s population lack adequate sanitation and 80% live on less than $10/day. The inequality of consumption that this creates and therefore, use of resources, which affects the environment is terribly skewed: 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3% according to the United Nations Human Development Report.
Sobering facts and that is why this is now an urgent issue! Of course, such issues are large and complex to simplify. They involve global citizens, governments, civil society, institutions and NGOs and drive public and policy agendas. However, a solution needs to be found and although this will be hugely helped by convincing us as individuals to unite and contribute at a grass roots level, I feel that it is actually the support and weight of the business community that will impactfully accelerate the way forward here. I wrote a piece a few years ago (‘Conscious Capitalism Rocks’) on the power of the commercial world getting involved in philanthropy and the growing network of people — including the leaders of many FTSE 100 companies building their organisations based on the idea that business is about more than making a profit. It’s about higher purpose. It is these guiding principles and best business practices that we now need to harness and encourage within our businesses around sustainability.
How can your company get its head around the challenges these issues raise? Impacts and priorities will be different in different companies and business sectors, depending upon the resources they depend upon, how they compete, their customer base and market positioning. From innovative urban planning to a greater understanding of online returns to a growing fleet of electric vehicles, sustainable solutions can come in many different shapes and sizes. That’s because every city, every company and every individual brings unique expertise to understanding the problem and trying to implement some forward momentum in turning the tide on decades of us burying our heads in the sand. The key, moving forward, is effective collaboration among global stakeholders where we all get more efficient and conscientious about the processes that our organisations work through.
There are some great disruptive and diverse companies doing some poignant stuff here. I love the story of what HP are doing with their ink cartridges where more than 80% of them and 100% of LaserJet toner cartridges are now manufactured with “closed loop” recycled plastic, which has reduced half a million pounds of ocean-bound plastic! They also have an initiative remanufacturing IT hardware, such as printers, personal systems and monitors, giving them a new lease of life and reducing the need of having to dispose of them and add to the mountain of environmental junk that is already unmanageable.
Tesla are another of the disruptive brigade – far from focusing on short-term goals and immediate growth – as many traditional car makers do, they decided from the beginning to adopt a big picture approach by focusing on addressing two important sustainability imperatives: the transition to a carbon neutral economy and the urgent need for a new sustainable business model for the transportation industry based on zero emissions. Most present government policies request automakers to increase their energy efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint caused by engines. In other words, the demand from the regulator to automakers is to produce something that pollutes less and consumes a smaller amount of energy resources.
Tesla was not happy with this “minimalistic” approach because its main objective was to lessen environmental problems, not to fix them. Far from concentrating on producing less harm, the approach of Tesla is to focus on creating higher value for its customers and for society at large. Tesla’s mission is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” by focusing on renewable energy. And the vision of the company is “to create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.” This means that Tesla was founded with a long-term business model in mind and a built-in understanding of societal demands.
Joro Experiences, an experiential travel company that I am Chairman of, is also rallying to the call. We genuinely believe that as a small company we can make a positive impact on this planet. With all our trips, we try to raise awareness of topical issues and give our clients the opportunity to give back without the hard sell. We believe that awareness is key to solving many of the major issues we face today, so just by travelling to far-flung places and meeting with the people who understand them most our clients are helping in the cause.
We also raise awareness and money on the back of some of the expeditions that we co-ordinate and I lead, and we have three exciting ones that we are currently putting together and on the back of these we are aiming to do a big global sustainability/educational initiative. The first is an 80 day expedition to kite-ski across 2000 miles of Antarctica via the ‘Pole of Inaccessibility’ and the ‘South Pole’; the second being to kite-surf across the Atlantic which will be a world first; and the third is to cycle the Empty Quarter, which is a 1000 mile trip through Oman to UAE.
Overall, all of these business initiatives can either be viewed as hurdles to organisations, as seems to be the norm, or as a dazzling opportunity to innovate business models, products and services and hopefully change the nature of evolving policy, regulation, investor focus and emerging sustainability standards. Whatever the appetite for innovation and leadership in your company, these evolving issues will continue to drive the integration of sustainability considerations and priorities into the way your business undertakes the following –
- Public attitudes and behaviour
- Changing customer requirements
- The changing competitive environment
- Strategic analysis and strategy development
- Risk analysis, assessment and planning
- New product development and business innovation
- Performance management
- Non-financial communication and reporting
There’s no single magic bullet to simplify what this means for any one business. However, there are practical and straightforward tools and processes which one can use with one’s clients to identify the issues that matter for them, develop ambition, vison and strategy and plan real-world responses to maximise opportunities and build business value.
By confronting the issues that matter for you in your company and planning business-relevant action it’s possible to develop leadership, win market share and build businesses fit for the future. It is time to sit up and get involved, so lets all link arms and start a green revolution.