Time for Systemic Change29 Jul 2014
Richard Spencer, Head of Sustainability at ICAEW, explores the role of business in creating a new system of sustainable prosperity
The big questions, which those of us working in the sustainability space are looking to answer, are first “how do we build prosperous and socially and economically just societies whilst living within our ecological limits?” and secondly “what is the role of business?”
Over the last 10 years we in mainstream business have learned that one of the key challenges faced by the business community is that incremental change is no longer a viable option. Whilst it has driven some innovation, and a great deal of efficiency, it is simply no longer sufficient for the future. We cannot just continue to assume that the ways in which we operate our businesses are a given. We must instead ask: what must business do about the issues faced by society and the environment?
We need to question our business models. It is vital to recognise that the environmental, and societal, limits that we are now breaching must be fixed points from which we operate, and we will have to adapt the ways we do business and run our economies in order to recognise this. In other words, we must embrace transformational systemic change on a hugely ambitious scale. If we do not, I believe we face a catastrophic loss of business value.
The challenge is one that is recognised by leading voices in the business world:
"Infinite high resource intensity growth is simply not possible, and we are already living off our future capital,” said Ian Cheshire, CEO of Kingfisher. “It may be gradual but most businesses will have to adjust to a very different reality. That reality will still be a version of capitalism, and needs to be a positive vision rather than a doom-laden return to the Stone Age, but it needs to rethink the point of the system. Instead of the goal of maximum linear growth in GDP, we should be thinking of maximum wellbeing for minimal planetary input."
“We have increasing income disparity within the developed world,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. “We have a political system that barely functions after the economic and financial crisis. So continuing the way we are going is simply not a solution and increasingly consumers are asking for a different way of doing business and building society for the long term together.”
However, this represents the views of a small group of organisations who are leading the way. The majority of businesses are at a much earlier stage of awareness – let alone action. So whilst we need to celebrate those leading the way in their thinking and activity, we must also be engaging the peloton.
This is why ICAEW sponsors this award: we believe that sustainability is central to a discussion about successful business into the long-term.
Finalists for the ICAEW Sustainable Business Award have been announced, with representatives preparing to present live to a panel of judges in September before the winner is revealed on 11th November at a glittering ceremony attended by industry leaders, government representatives, and national media. To book your place to see who triumphs this year, visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk or call Matt Wilson on 0207 560 4225 for information on ticket and table packages.