scorecardAll businesses must follow this trajectory to help us escape certain climate doom, new report says. Read about it here
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All businesses must follow this trajectory to help us escape certain climate doom, new report says. Read about it here

All businesses must follow this trajectory to help us escape certain climate doom, new report says. Read about it here
SustainabilitySustainability3 min read
Imagine yourself as a fruit vendor. As you spend hours everyday watching the Sun's gleams dance on the wide variety of wares through the holes in the thatched roof, you know that only one of your fruits reigns supreme above all: the banana.

It may not hold distinction for the King of the fruits, but it is the one you depend on the most, for nothing else sells like the banana. However, therein lies another problem. People don't dispose of the peel well, flicking it smack-dab in the middle of the footpath, where it deviously waits to trip someone.

You have tried to clean up this inconsiderate mess, even provided dust-bins. It helped a little, but there's still a ton of peels at your doorstep, waiting to bruise passerbys. What do you do then? You've already put in considerable effort to clean up a problem that is inadvertently of your making. So then, is it even your problem anymore?

In a rapidly changing climate that stands to burn the very Earth we walk on, it is crucial that every step we take — big or small — end in a net-positive for the environment. This is especially true for enterprises, which have vast more influence on the climate than most individuals, and must thus actively seek to ensure they remain green.

Even though an increasing number of businesses worldwide are adopting sustainability into their operations, systematic greenwashing and a revenue-focused mindset has all but ensured that we will never meet our planet's climate targets on time.

But forcing companies to take a greener route can only go so far; we need to understand how they think, and evaluate accordingly. The latest Future of Sustainability report by non-profit Forum for the Future does just this, outlining four trajectories, or 'attitudes' businesses take up in response to the growing climate crisis.

Starting from the most ignorant and defiant of the climate crisis, the first of these categories comprise the 'Profit Supreme' trajectory, where profits and maximising shareholder value reign above all. Then comes 'Shallow Gestures,' where companies take some action, usually out of obligation, and this non-commitment ultimately results in no meaningful and lasting impact.

Things get a little more interesting with the next trajectory. Termed 'Tech Optimism', this describes an overreliance on devising technology that will help us address crises as they come. While there is a definite need for advancements to help decarbonise, predict and mitigate disasters more effectively, our overdependence could eventually become our downfall if technology cannot keep up with need — something the world is already facing currently with green energy generation, batteries and a portfolio of other technologies.

Only the fourth attitude, 'Courage to Transform', can help us make effective changes lasting enough to prevent disasters at the prescribed timeline. This requires businesses, governments and all facets of society to recognise that profit cannot triumph human and planetary health, and fundamentally repackage their processes in a way that is sustainable.

To bring us closer to this fourth trajectory, leaders must regularly chart new grounds and discard old pathways. The report outlines five ways in which this planet-saving attitude can be achieved.

  • Moving from a simple risk prevention mindset to one that actively brainstorms opportunity to invest in change that could help in climate adaptation and mitigation.
  • Instead of incrementally tackling the symptoms of social and environmental crises, they must address the underlying causes. An important example would be investing in green energy generation instead of spending billions every year to scrub the air clean of pollutants released from fossil fuel-based energy sources.
  • Businesses must actively shape how they operate vis-a-vis stakeholders and customers, instead of passively responding to them.
  • Responsibilities and value creation must be spread across multiple levels and stakeholder groups. In addition to speeding up decision-making, a decentralised governance will also lead to the inflow of more ideas on how to tackle their sustainability issues.
  • Leaders must acknowledge inherent biases, and work on systematically removing them to drive more equitable and balanced decision-making.

As James Payne, the non-profit’s Strategic Lead, puts it, "Theres not enough focus right now on how businesses can most effectively achieve their sustainability goals against a backdrop of ongoing disruption. Understanding the different futures you could face clarifies the role your business could play in creating them. This is key to resetting how you understand and respond to the social and environmental challenges shaping the health of your operating context."

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