"A greener future? Right now I'll settle for just getting through this chaos, and worry about the planet later” anon.
An understandable sentiment, under pressure of lost income, deferred sales, bad debt, uncertain supply chains. With media reporting a constant stream of calamities supposedly linked to human activity, what can a business do and where would you start? So many voices, ideas, initiatives… It really is confusing, many struggle to make sense of how COP discussions, EMF initiatives, Paris Accords, Greenpeace, Carbon Zero, Extinction Rebellion fit together. So I thought I’d try to arrange the main pieces of Greenery in a coherent picture…
Management orders its thinking in strata from high level, blue sky through to low level nuts and bolts. When you look at all the column inches, the green agenda is not so different – but it is messy where politicians and interests groups around the world set out their competing stalls with diverse jargon and varying perspectives on the array of issues.
The Problem Situation
In simple terms the maelstrom of problems facing life on earth boil down some fundamental facts of life. The planet is warming, the environment is becoming increasingly polluted and the human population is growing with ever more wants. Sitting behind theses basics are many issues but the key ones we see played out are species extinction, carbon emissions and resource scarcity. Link to that social conflicts which arise over access to raw materials, famines, economic migrants, wealth sharing.
The UN has done its job and set out a strategic framework that talks to the various aspects of change are needed: the Sustainable Development Goals. They address living within our means with equality, diversity and preserving bio diversity because the health of nature is essential to our own. This is our strategic envelope.
- The common currency by which many concerns are measured is Carbon and the big target set in Paris was to cut carbon to limit warming to 1.5 degrees by 2050. This benchmark is a gauge of how much we humans burn to make, eat, heat, cool, communicate, and travel. But carbon is a one dimensional measure, is contentious and generate plenty of argument about who needs to shoulder the most.
- Polluted environment has no common objectives but a patchwork of protected areas, regulations, special protections exist – but many still see only valuable resources to be harvested for sale – enforcement is often impossible.
- Population growth and demand? Good luck arguing for population caps or wealth constraints.
Consensus over objectives is difficult and ways to measure progress fraught with obstacles even if states could agree how much each must do.
Without consensus over objectives, those seeking to address these big issues focus effort in a broad arenas of change - driven by local priorities and public opinion.
- Renewables: utilising resources which replenish naturally
- Clean-Up: removal, recovery of spilt or discarded materials.
- Circularity: business models which are built around repair, reuse and recycling.
- Diversity: Inclusivity and opportunity for all under the new normal
This is where purpose is essential for businesses – being more than just a money engine. Businesses with purpose understand who they are, what they value, the ethics they work to and build wealth round that purpose. Todays disruptions within a frame of green thinking can be an opportunity to reflect and embrace responses to COVID or Brexit where they move us to a more sustainable economy. An economy where travel is by exception not routine. An economy where dispersed workforces can work easily in agile teams. An economy with shorter supply loops for many generic goods and services supporting industries that designs for reuse and recycle not consume and dispose.
Businesses that embrace new circular operating models have great challenges but now could be the moment to create those trading networks, rethink products, launch radical usage models or ways of managing a dispersed team. All point to business models that grow wealth with resilience and sustainability.
Every tiny step matters from recycling to air source heat pumps to allotments. Take a step today.