Think of the best example of a responsible business that you know. If every company copied this example, would the result be enough? Enough to satisfy many of us who have been campaigning for years to grow best practice significantly, yes. But not enough to meet the scale of environmental and social changes that are on the horizon.
Predictions show that by 2030 the world’s growing population will need 50% more food, 50% more energy and 30% more water. Yet the basis on which most businesses run and on which most consumers live their lives is not sustainable. If everyone consumed products and services at the levels we do currently in the UK, we would need 3 planets worth of natural resources to meet the demand. Around the world this level varies, there are countries with much higher and lower levels. The evidence however is irrefutable. Where development occurs it happens in such a way that we put unsustainable use of natural resources at the heart of progress. The numbers simply don’t stack up for trade to be the solution out of poverty, if the fundamental shape of trade doesn’t change. Companies are the best agents of change in shaping trade for the future. People in business solve complex problems every day.
Many are making good progress, whether minimising their negative environmental impacts, using less water, producing less waste or managing, measuring and reporting their carbon use. At the same time companies continue to engage more meaningfully with communities, whether local areas or communities of interest, and addressing social issues relevant to their business. Improvements are important, and are being achieved. This must be celebrated, to recognise best practice but more importantly to spur on a new wave of progress, one that must be characterised by transformational change. The businesses that thrive in the future will be those that are not just doing less harm to the world but making an overall positive impact through their products and services. This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, but we believe that the companies that embrace it will be those that thrive in the future.
This is why Business in the Community is working with its members through our Visioning the Future programme to help them do 3 things;
- Understand the global mega trends that are shaping the future of business through the Forces for Change framework
- Open their eyes to the commercial opportunities posed by these trends and translate them for their business
- Try something radical
The Forces for Change is the framework we have developed to help companies recognise and understand today’s radically changing world, and bring together the breadth of complex, faster and interdependent factors shaping the context in which they will be doing business. The issues are dynamic so the Forces for Change is not a static information set. It is a lens through which we help people in our member companies to open their eyes to the range of interconnected factors shaping business and interpret them for their jobs.
Most people are aware of some or many of these issues but they have rarely brought them together in a way that they can understand and act on their relevance for their business. Even more importantly, they have not used them to spot the opportunities for their business. For too long, sustainability and these issues have been seen as risk factors to minimise the impact of, or to defend the market position against. Enlightened companies are finding they are a powerful business case to drive bolder, positive action.
So what should companies do about this? They need to create the space in which senior people in business can be immersed in the issues and see the opportunities of bolder change. This kind of leadership is unlikely to be achieved by squeezing an hour into the diary earmarked for ‘transformational change’. There is growing excitement and recognition that companies can find it more liberating and deliver better solutions if they look very far to the future and backcast, as opposed to looking at today as a starting point and forecasting. Working forwards from today tends to instil thinking along the lines of incremental changes and improvement. What business needs now is more radical, long-term thinking to shape the business models of the future.
And to do this they need to innovate, to try something radical. This means encouraging new and different ideas from within and outside of the business for how they could make and sell products or provide services in a radically different way. Kingfisher’s UK operations, B&Q have selected four key areas where it can create a positive net impact on society over a 10 – 20 year period. For example on Timber, the global aim is to create more forest than they use. This takes a comprehensive long-standing commitment to responsible and sustainable sourcing of all timber and paper to another level. It is also instigating innovation with the supply chain to design products from the outset for reuse and recycling, and piloting community projects whereby people can help each other to improve their homes.
Many of the most inspiring examples are found around the world, where companies and communities are finding new ways to work together to access products and services, such as Unilever’s Shakti programme (last issue), and Grameen Danone are two great examples that provide inspiration.
At Business in the Community we view sustainability as a way that we can feed, house and support all the people who live on the planet, without destroying that planet, and the Visioning the Future programme is one way that we are helping companies take enlightened and bigger steps to shaping this future for the 9 billion people who are expected to be living on the planet by 2050.