Redefining Sustainability

Sustainability must be reframed as an opportunity if it is to take hold.

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We’ve heard the word sustainability a lot lately. Climate change scientists warn countries and companies of the dangers of current levels of carbon emissions. Board directors are being called upon to be more transparent and punish bad behaviour. NGOs and social groups want companies to earn a licence to operate by committing to social good. A few weeks ago, the CEO of the Singapore Exchange announced that
following a year of discussions to decide precisely how this would get done, corporations listed in Singapore will be required to report on their environmental and social impact. Sustainability is everywhere!

We can debate many technicalities about our current level of development and its impact on the planet and society, but a few trends have become reasonably clear over the last few years:

  • At the current rate of population and economic growth, we are using the resources of 1.5 planets. A further acceleration will mean using even more resources we don’t have – or may not have for very long.
  • Public patience with corporate self-interest has been severely tested over the last few years and has been decreasing to all-time low levels.
    In an era of growing transparency where corporate transgressions are likely to be identified and spread very quickly, profit at the expense of the environment or society is becoming an increasingly costly and
    unsustainable proposition for top management teams.
  • All over the world consumers are becoming increasingly mindful of the environmental and social implications of the products they consume. While the majority of consumers haven’t yet demonstrated that they are willing to pay more for sustainable products, they are still increasingly taking these considerations into account when making purchase decisions between products displaying comparable
    characteristics and price. This preoccupation is likely to continue to increase as millions join the middle class in emerging markets and greater awareness takes hold.

Source: knowledge.insead.edu

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