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Business Self-Interest ‘Key to Sustainability’

The private sector needs to take on a wider role in proliferating the sustainability solutions required to avoid widespread environmental, social and economic disruptions as government alone can not be relied upon to achieve such goals, according to a GlobeScan and SustainAbility project called the Regeneration Roadmap.

Research conducted for Changing Tack: Extending Corporate Leadership on Sustainable Development — an 18-month collaborative initiative designed to engage the private sector in advancing sustainable development by improving strategy, increasing credibility and delivering results at greater speed and scale — found low expectations that governments will provide the leadership needed to change course. It looks to other institutions, particularly business, to fill the gap.

But the private sector has both the capability and reason — rooted in self-interest — to play a catalytic leadership role through what the report calls “extended leadership” that not only focuses on individual business performance but also on how to most effectively change underlying system conditions, the report says.

Extended leadership consists of concurrently manifesting six corporate attributes related to having a unique vision, setting ambitious and concrete goals, an evolved corporate offer, a compelling brand, true transparency and active advocacy functions, according to the report.

One reason the onus of leadership rests so much on business is that the modern economic system not only fosters growth and development, but also holds the potential to ensure reliable and efficient distribution and stewardship of the resources that the system consumes. To unlock this potential requires a focus on the private sector. In addition, inaction on sustainable development challenges poses risks to business models, investment and growth. It is not only possible but also in the private sector’s self-interest to help pilot the forward course, the report says.

Achieving sustainable development will require far greater effort than previously; the whole economic system must be carefully reshaped to exploit its strengths, so that future innovation and growth occur within planetary limits, taking into account the needs of present and future generations, the report says.

According to a report released as part of The Regeneration Roadmap project in November, two thirds of consumers in six countries recognize the need to consume less and purchase products that are good for the environment and society.

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One thought on “Business Self-Interest ‘Key to Sustainability’

  1. It’s not complicated. If you look at Sustainability as a system holistically incorporating environmental, social, economic, and governance pillars, it’s the governance pillar that drives everything else right now. Until we get business ownership and leadership to understand and execute on the environmental and social pillars through a more balanced economic pillar, governance will continue to drive and incentivize short term economic behavior. The reality is, if we want to move the needle on Sustainability, it’s about business, that’s where the action is. And to move the needle Sustainability professionals need to understand and talk the language of business, not morals. We will never influence and persuade governance if we continue to position Sustainabilty as “the right thing to do”… even though most of us believe that it is.

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