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Sustainability is Failing

Sustainability is failing

13 February, 2020

20 years and counting of the ‘sustainability movement’ – of which we count ourselves a part – and what have we achieved? Our honest answer right now is nowhere near enough.

There has been plenty of mood music – businesses the world over will tell you that sustainability is integrated into their operations while they toil over the wording of the ‘purpose’ they think sets out the value they bring to the world. But nine times out of ten the latter is just marketing, and while the former might be true from a systems and structures perspective, it’s not delivering the change we need.

The topic of sustainability has slowly been edging its way into the boardroom, but the scale of the challenges we face has been sky rocketing. We are in a climate crisis – even the government has agreed on that. Our society is riven by inequality and social issues of enormous complexity – from housing to obesity to pensions – these problems increasingly dominate the landscape.

This must be the time not just to sit up and think, but to take action. Businesses have been delivering slow and incremental change in the name of business responsibility and sustainability when what we need is a thunderbolt of transformation. If we keep saying we’ve got twenty years to save the world, time will run out. From zero-carbon commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals deadline, horizons for delivery are drawing ever closer, but we don’t seem to be speeding up our efforts to address the crisis.

Unless business steps up to the challenges we face, time will be called on the sustainability movement. It’s not delivering the kind of capitalism the world both wants and needs.

But it absolutely can. And there’s never been a more compelling case for it to do so. Not least because there is a massive new wave of will for change. For the first time ever, consumers and culture are in the lead, demanding action. People want to buy from, work for, talk about and partner with organisations that deliver bold solutions for people and society. And for every established business that doesn’t deliver, there’s a disrupter that will.

The message is clear: if you want your business to be part of the future, you need a step change in thinking and action. Steady progress on sustainability will write you out of history. The winners will be those that embrace transformative change.

And if there’s ever a moment to mark a new beginning, it’s upon us – January 2020. A decade to meet the 2030 agenda for sustainable change. The moment to draw a line in the sustainability sand, and springboard into a new era of action.

We know this is anything but easy. But it is essential. And we believe that everything we’ve learnt and done over the past 20+ years of working in this space has set us up for this moment.

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