In 2017 much of the discussion around sustainability and the environment somehow comes back to the President of the USA.
This is, of course, fairly understandable given his brash outbursts about the falsehood of global warming, his desire to leave the Paris Agreement, expanding oil & gas production (particularly through fracking projects) in the USA and his attempts to reverse any environmentally sound policies which Barack Obama ever even looked at.
This all makes for some pretty grim reading if you are even remotely environmentally conscious. However, it is maybe not as bad as we might think. I would propose that as we move through the 21st century that we are actually in a pretty ok position.
There are several factors which mean sustainability will have its way:
- We are more environmentally aware than any previous generation. As a whole, we care about what the world will look like for the next generation and want to act now to preserve it.
- We expect and demand that businesses align their values to our own, showing the same care and attention. If they don't, we go elsewhere. It's that simple.
Businesses know that consumers are more & more invested in where their products come and the story behind them: just look at the success of brands like Patagonia who capitalise on the environmentally friendly brand image.
To be profitable in the long-term, businesses must now be green. Take Mars (the confectionery company) for example, who committed to buying all of their electricity in the UK for the next 10 years from a windfarm in Scotland. "The Moy Wind Farm is part of our innovative and long-term approach to achieving our goal to be a successful and sustainable business for generations to come," said their Chief Sustainability and Health & Wellbeing Officer, Barry Parkin. 20 years ago, I would hazard a guess that not one large organisation had a sustainability officer!
- For me, this quotation also highlights the most important aspect of sustainability being successful - Mars saw this as a crucial step in their goal of being successful in the long-term. The two are now synonymous!
- Technology means that being sustainable and environmentally conscious is no longer the preserve of the rich - from recycling bins being common on every street, to the plethora of new technologies which enables us all to live in a more sustainable fashion (check out my post on thermostats).
Sceptics will argue that big business' motives are impure and that they are only doing it for the good PR and to earn more money. There will inevitably be some truth in this, but I equally think that it misses the point - as long as we are operating in a sustainable manner, everyone benefits. Organisations earn more & create more wealth which in turn will feed back into making them even more successful; the average person's daily life improves because we live in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly world; and we start to reduce/correct the damage we inflict on the earth.
Whilst governments can initiate successful sustainability schemes (look at the success of the plastic bag tax in the UK, reducing usage by 85%!), they are not the main actors (this will be driven by business) and they are not the main beneficiaries: we, the average human, are!
This positive change will not happen overnight, but it will become more & more mainstream, to the point where those businesses who are not pursuing a carbon neutral footprint will stick out like a sore thumb.
Sidenote: For anyone looking to read about a new & more sustainable economic model to move towards, please check out the Doughnut Economics blog by Kate Raworth and her critically acclaimed book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist which sets out a vision for a new economic model which is truly sustainable.
Despite having a president who says climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese and House Republicans who voted to dump coal waste into rivers, 60 percent of companies with revenues greater than $1 billion said the current administration will have “no impact” on their sustainability strategy and they will move “full speed ahead.” That response is music to the ears.