Travelling round clients recently, I’m struck by how quickly the sustainability agenda is at last moving beyond impact reduction and managing single issues on a case by case basis (such as palm oil) to much more holistic thinking about the fundamentals of long term business model revolution. 5 years ago, if I’d told a client they should think about becoming a zero deforestation business, or decoupling economic growth from environmental impact, they’d have said it was either impossible or unsellable internally.
Yet that’s exactly what is now happening, as companies face food and energy security issues, risk of extreme climatic events, and other well documented environmental threats to their prosperity, such as loss of biodiversity. Whether it’s Unilever’s new Sustainable Living Plan (still the leader as far as I’m concerned), recent deals between the Forest Trust and Sinar Mas/GAR as well as Nestle on ending deforestation for agricultural commodities, there’s a great surge forward underway. It’s good to see. Some unlikely companies are starting to take all this seriously, along with the ones we always knew would be first.
Before we get too excited, let’s remember most companies aren’t yet thinking in this way. Some aren’t even beginning to unlock their damaging supply chains, let alone thinking about the systemic changes that need to happen in their commercial model in the next decade. But the growing number of companies embracing radical thinking, ripping up the old order, and measuring shareholder value in ways that reflect more than short term profit and loss accounts, makes for exciting times. It’s also a huge opportunity for NGOs to advance their agendas – providing real life case studies on how their rhetorical demands, sometimes seen as pie in the sky wishful thinking, aren’t as daft as some would have us believe.
In 2020, only companies that are asking the right questions and embracing the right thinking now will be fit for purpose. It’ll be interesting to see who else emerges as real leaders in the months and years ahead. The clock is, as ever, ticking.