So the UN is saying we’ve reached a plateau with business efforts on sustainability. Is anyone really surprised? Not really.
The thing is, if you keep trying to fix a broken thing it will only ever be a slightly poorer version of itself. Even in recycling we turn the used thing into something else. In upcycling we turn it into something better. I’m thinking business is the same.
If you keep looking for short term, quick fix, low hanging fruit stuff all you are going to get is short term wins. We are at the point where most have done all the obvious stuff with short paybacks, great PR, some kind of obvious competitive advantage. Now it’s time to get serious and start looking at the business model itself.
Growth is not growing any more. So how can business still look to increase profitability?
There is still a lot that can be achieved through removing embedded waste. It’s time we stopped looking at the quick turnarounds and start looking at long term time investment to really understand what we can change in our processes. This might be something that becomes obvious as soon as you start looking, like printing that could be replaced with electronic copies, or it could be a radical overhaul of the entire process. Our problem is that we tend to look at business cases for the here and now.
We need to think way beyond, look past the horizon and realise that we are using resources that won’t be replaced in the future.
We need to look at the way we do business and ask ourselves some serious questions about how things are running.
We need to push back against the boundaries that keep us working to the frameworks we do. Is it legislation, policy or a failure to understand new ideas?
And when we’re done thinking, we need to start applying. We’re very good at talking to ourselves in sustainability.
Who’s listening? Our peers in the same field.
Who do we need to listen? The decision makers in our businesses.
We know who the big guns are, the few that are lauded for taking steps forward but each one of those is doing a little bit. They have schemes to do this, projects for that but how many are actually saying STOP! Let’s look at our business model? And how many are smaller than the multi-nationals?
The days of green being a competitive advantage are ending. Everyone’s on the bandwagon making claims about their strides towards a greener world. But even so we are all working in the same framework, where we are limited by infrastructure, held back by old school thinking, tied by our investments and scuppered by our habits.
We’re all culpable. We drive our cars, charge our rare earth dependent tech, eat our over processed, over packaged food and buy stuff just because we’re bored. When’s the last time you challenged a supplier on what they did to produce that thing you just bought?
The sad reality is that unless there is a business case no standard business model will allow for the radical change that is needed. If the consumer will just go on absorbing cost increases and assuming there is nothing they can do to drive change then the business will keep delivering the product, charging whatever they can get away with until the resources run out or someone with a different product puts them out of business.
Ask yourself which consumer are you? Which business are you working in? If you don’t like the answer do something about it, for everyone’s sake. Otherwise we’re all walking along a plateau which one day will come to an end.