The Sustainability Revolution
“The sustainability revolution has the magnitude of the agricultural and industrial revolutions but the speed of the digital revolution.”
– Al Gore [i]
In The Future We Choose, authors Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac—who led the United Nations’ (UN) negotiations during the Paris Agreement of 2015—outline two futures for humanity in 2050. One describes a dark and gloomy world in which we fail to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate targets. The other paints a more positive picture of a regenerative world with net-zero emissions. They also show that the latter is possible if governments, corporations and each and every one of us work to fend off disaster and grow on the way. [ii]
In the face of this massive adversity, it is, of course, easy to feel too small to make a difference. But instead of seeing our potential contribution as limited, we need to realise that our zone of influence as corporate business leaders can be much larger than we tend to think. This is because the world of corporate business is particularly well equipped to help solve the problems of the world through the ingenuity, creativity, collaboration and resources that it can so often call forth more effectively and efficiently than other human organisations. And we, as corporate business leaders, can go far beyond demonstrating in the streets. We can actually move capital, minds and action, and cooperate to nudge consumers into making choices that co-create the healthy future that we want and need for our business, humanity and the generations to come—our own children and grandchildren included.
Because the digital revolution is now being followed by a sustainable one, the message from the World Economic Forum is clear: “Like the digital revolution before it, the sustainability revolution promises to change everything. Yet, just as with digital, many companies are moving too slowly, taking an incremental approach to a challenge that demands a radical rethink.” [iii] The pandemic only seems to have accelerated the trend. In the wake of this development, some real and important change is happening, but we are also seeing a flood of seemingly empty promises and greenwashing from businesses across the globe.
What has been especially striking to me in my deep dive into relevant research and reports in this field is that the emergency that we are now experiencing in the field of climate change and biodiversity loss is far from new. The first conclusions from the ambitious undertakings of The Club of Rome, published in their 1972 report The Limits of Growth, Medows and collegues[iv], clearly outlined the challenges and predicaments of modern society. The same year, the world’s first global conference on the human environment was held in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.[v] There, the participants adopted principles for “sound management of the environment” based on the scientific findings and insights of their time. Already there was an understanding of the link between economic growth and the pollution of the air, water and oceans and the well-being of people across the globe. These insights, however, seem to have taken far too long to trickle down to other members of society, including policymakers, entrepreneurs and corporate business leaders across the globe. And since the 1970s, growth has increased exponentially, lifting billions out of poverty, but at the same time accelerating the environmental damage to all life systems. Hence, we have not been able to decouple growth from its negative environmental impact.
In this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world of accelerating change, global warming and biodiversity loss, a transformation beyond business as usual is both urgent and important. Sustainability is no longer something for conscious consumers and brands in some of the most developed countries in the world but something that concerns us all. Across the world. Across industries. It should have been since the beginning of the industrial revolution. As corporate business leaders (and consumers), we have seriously contributed to the dire situation that our planet is currently in. We have far too long left it to others to solve the problems that we have created. But what got us here will not get us into the future. We must realise that the challenges ahead are bigger than what we could have ever imagined and rethink how we do business so we can hand over a thriving planet and society to the coming generations….
Read more in my coming book ‘Better Business Better Future’ (Elisabet Lagerstedt) to find out how Better Business can help build a Better Future.
[i] A climate-change fix is the ‘biggest investment opportunity in history’: Al Gore to millennials, by Rachel Koning Beals at MarketWatch, Nov22, 2019, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/a-climate-change-fix-is-the-biggest-investment-opportunity-in-history-al-gore-to-millennials-2019-11-22 (retrieved 2021-02-07)
[ii] The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, 2020, https://www.amazon.com/Future-We-Choose-Surviving-Climate-ebook/dp/B07Y7HZLX8
[iii] Why Sustainability is the new Digital, by Orit Gadiesh and Jenny Davis-Peccoud, World Economic Forum, Jan13 2021, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/01/davos-agenda-sustainability-digital-revolution/
[iv] The Limits of Growth, Donatella H. Meadows et al, 1972. Can be downloaded for free as PDF via donatellamedows.org: https://donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf
[v] Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm 5-16 June 1972,