How we live and work today, in the developed West, is not sustainable. Two forces, climate change and social discontent, threaten to make our lives harder, our economies poorer.
Business is under pressure. Shareholders, employees and customers are demanding more sustainable practices.
Already, slow responses to these new expectations are capsizing brand reputations and executive careers.
We may not see firsthand poverty or war. But weather and pollution are starting to disrupt business and personal lives; and we all know people with exacerbated mental or physical health conditions.
For decades, opportunity followed in the wake of trade. Still, growth also led to the present worries. With industrialisation came greenhouse gases; with capitalism, unhealthy lifestyles and dangerous inequalities.
Companies are more agile than governments and more influential than individuals. Cast unhelpfully as the villain, business now has a crucial role in how we champion a sustainable economic and cultural system.
Strategies geared toward ‘better, faster, cheaper’ versions of the products and services we have today will fail in most industries.
In future, imaginative thinking that accounts for ecological and social, as well as economic, returns will win customers and make money.
As the capitalist system evolves, executives who prosper will stand for a wiser, less narrow conception of ‘value’. Their companies will thrive by delivering returns for society, the world we live in, and shareholders.
Still, it is hard to change the system. Demands for cheap products and short-term profit conspire with apathy to keep governments, companies and individuals locked onto the current path. Business will have to work hard to effect the changes the world demands.
Rethinking business strategy
Many firms are slow to grapple with these new demands. Markets, culture, operations and cash-flow concerns get in the way. A fresh, more holistic approach to strategy is required.