Opinion: Rachel’s picks for 2016

2 February 2016

Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network, believes there will be a global leap in demand for a more sustainable future.

This isn’t an individual battle: it requires genuine collaboration – across sectors, generations, business, government and NGOs – for three key reasons.

  1. Demand for collaboration is global in scale

We ended 2015 with the first ever universal, legally binding global climate deal made by 195 countries in Paris. This was a phenomenal achievement and it sets out a global action plan which calls for serious emission reductions. Tensions and challenges in meetings like this are very real and now the battle begins:  we start 2016 with very low oil prices alongside increasingly well organised, globally-connected organisations that are focused on ramping up demand for renewables, clean tech and divestment from fossil fuels.

This means greater pressure on business. We will see progressive, larger companies ramping up their emission reduction and divestment plans, while lagging businesses will have to focus on reshaping their strategies to reduce emissions. 

  1. Demand for change is inter-generational

We are a product of our times (not just our birthdates). Emerging values, attitudes and trends may be embraced by the youngest generation first, but eventually permeate throughout all generations to one degree or another. This is why I believe each generation will increasingly play an important and unique role in creating a more sustainable future.

‘Millennials’, who by 2020 will be the largest part of the global workforce and therefore the economy, have serious potential to influence and want to make a positive contribution to society. Outside of their studies or working lives, this group has been mobilising to put well-organised pressure on governments and business for change (think organisations like Generation Zero or 350.org). 

Supporting this is their parents – the wealthy baby boomers – who, as they get closer to retirement, are colluding with the millennials (their kids) by funding, investing or guiding the entrepreneurial ones into new and exciting purpose-led businesses. This kind of impact or positive investment will eventually see the major banks, who are watching this space with interest, pick up on the opportunity and steadily develop new products to meet this demand.  

Any business wanting to attract future-focused, purpose-led folk will need an attraction strategy that allows for diversity, flexible working hours, rethinking terms of contracts, greater investment in education and training, adaptability for culturally-diverse employees and a strategy that is values-aligned. Done well, these conditions are beneficial for both employers and employees. In fact the same goes for attracting the best performing and values-aligned suppliers.

  1. The need for new solutions affects all sectors and requires collaboration and transparency

As values, trends, resources, income distribution and population structures change, it’s clear that new solutions are needed for virtually every product and service we rely on: energy, mobility, housing, food growing and distribution, social services, etc. Business and governments must step up, put vested interests aside, and openly and transparently deliver a better way.

Addressing these mega issues alone has risks, particularly when there is a serious lack of trust or belief within societies worldwide in either business or government leadership (particularly when massive corporates like Volkswagen and Exxon were very publicly exposed for fraud last year). These massive challenges require cross-sector collaboration.

So no matter what sector, generation, business, government or NGOs you may be involved in, 2016 is the year you need to get your bigger purpose clear, understand the material issues for your business and put some resources behind our transformation to a more sustainable future by collaborating with others.