A new report from the Forum for the Future, a non-profit organisation, finds that businesses are having difficulty adapting to the cost-of-living crisis. The report provides projections for the future based on different levels of corporate commitment to sustainability.
The report, titled “The Future of Sustainability: Courage to Transform,” is based on in-depth research and interviews with business leaders. It identifies four possible future trajectories for businesses, each with its own set of risks and opportunities.
“The Future of Sustainability offers a way of navigating the growing polycrisis. We need to shift our focus from mitigating risk to building resilience,” said Dr Sally Uren, Forum for the Future’s Chief Executive.
“While our analysis shows four possible futures emerging for business, we feel only one has the potential to create the socially just and regenerative future we urgently need. Realising this future will mean focusing on five key shifts.”
The trajectories outlined in the report are below.
The profit supreme trajectory
In this trajectory, businesses continue to prioritise profits above all else, even as the impacts of climate change become increasingly severe. They may believe that incorporating environmental and social factors into their operations would violate their fiduciary duty, or they may simply be indifferent to these concerns.
Whatever the reason, businesses on this trajectory are setting themselves up for failure. By 2033, they will be unable to evade the cascading social and environmental consequences of climate change. The world will be on a path to permanent warming above 1.5 °C, and millions of people will be displaced by extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
According to the report, this trajectory is a recipe for disaster. It will lead to widespread environmental degradation, social unrest, and economic instability.
Making shallow gestures
In this trajectory, businesses make some superficial efforts to address environmental and social issues, but they are not willing to make the necessary changes to their core operations. They may launch marketing campaigns that promote their commitment to sustainability, but they continue to invest in fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful activities.
As a result, businesses on this trajectory make little progress in reducing their environmental impact. By 2033, the world is still on track to warm above 1.5 °C, and the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly severe.
Tech for the future
This trajectory is based on the belief that technology can solve the world’s environmental and social problems. Businesses in this trajectory invest heavily in new technologies, such as renewable energy and artificial intelligence, in the hope that these technologies will allow them to continue operating without making significant changes to their business models.
However, there are risks associated with this approach. For example, the development and deployment of new technologies can have unintended consequences, such as environmental damage or job displacement. Additionally, the benefits of technology are not always evenly distributed, which can lead to social inequality.
The courage to transform
In this trajectory, businesses, governments, and civil society work together to transform the economy in a way that is both sustainable and equitable. They do this by investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other clean technologies. They also make changes to their business models to reduce their environmental impact.
This trajectory is the most challenging, but it is also the most promising. It requires a fundamental shift in the way society thinks about business and economics. However, if successful, the report suggests it can lead to a world that is both prosperous and sustainable.
The report also includes five shifts that the Forum has outlined to enable businesses to deliver on the transformational agendas so urgently needed. These are:
- Shift from a risk mitigation mindset to a transformational mindset
- Shift from addressing the symptoms of the crisis to addressing the root cause of the crisis
- Shift from passively responding to your operating context to actively shaping the context
- Shift from slow centralised decision-making authority to more agile distributed governance models
- Shift from an assumption that we are exempt from bias in how we assess risk to incorporating bias awareness into decisions around risk
You can read the full report here.
About Forum for the Future
Forum for the Future is an international sustainability non-profit that has been working in partnership with business, governments, and civil society for more than 25 years to accelerate the shift towards a just and regenerative future.
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