Environmental issues like plastic in the oceans, carbon emissions and conservation combined with society’s growing concern for the natural environment are driving the emergence of a new breed of business.
These shifts in the way business is being reshaped and what is being valued most in the marketplace should be a wake-up call for all businesses.
Some start-ups are now consciously addressing the big three elements of “sustainability” all at once. They are demonstrating how a new form of capitalism may help repair environmental damage and social disadvantage.
These businesses — such as Seabin, My Green World and Pollinate Energy — are showing us how to care for people and the planet while being profitable: businesses that are sustainable and sustaining.
At the heart of a more integrated approach to business is the realisation that “everything is connected”. That phrase recognises that business success is dependent upon the wellbeing of the community and natural environment in which the business operates. It becomes common sense for these business owners to pursue strategies that look after themselves by looking after others.
This integrated approach is one that will be required as we hit the “limits to growth” predicted in the book of the same name back in 1972.
This could result in shortages of minerals like oil, copper and zinc in the next 20 years. Added to that are the declining agricultural yields from diminishing arable land, deforestation, decline in fish stocks — the list goes on.
The broader context is one that many business owners don’t think about because we tend to assume that all the resources we need will always be available. Business owners can choose to ignore these predictions or they can benefit from them. And as every mature leader knows, there is opportunity in difficulties or crisis.
New business models that take the changing landscape (no pun intended) into account are forging their strategic business future in ways that nurture the wellbeing of people and the planet.
They tend to be underpinned by the founder’s sense of personal purpose to make a difference to an issue that they care about. This inside-out approach to business development is almost a 180-degree turn on the more usual approach of using market research to determine the business focus.
The new-breed business does not create a market need with clever marketing methods to increase overall consumption of Earth’s resources — rather, it benefits while helping us all to meet a genuine need to care for the planet.
The market itself is signalling a need for changing the face of business
In June 2018, research indicated that 91 per cent of the Australian public were concerned about the environment and sustainability issues, with Gen X being the most concerned. They were most concerned about plastics in the ocean, landfill waste and the condition of the natural environment.
Further, 70 per cent of the public were looking to businesses to take action and show their concern for our collective future. Most citizens and businesses believed they were not doing all they could do.
Fast forward to 15 February 2020 — our Black Summer has resulted in more than 46 million acres of land burnt, including 80 per cent of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area in NSW and 53 per cent of the Gondwana World Heritage Rainforest in Queensland.
The cost of lives lost is incalculable, but the Insurance Council of Australia estimates losses to property in excess of $1.9 billion. Economists estimate the loss to the economy to be over $20 billion.
Combine these facts with the experience of many people in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide this summer and we can anticipate that “consumers” are becoming even more eco-aware which will influence their future purchases. Maybe business owners themselves are also more aware as supply chains were interrupted by transport disruptions and power outages, too.
Strategic questions to shift your business into creating a better world
Smart business operators will now be starting to ask themselves different strategic questions about how their businesses will survive and thrive into the future and how they contribute to a more positive outlook for future generations. Questions including:
- What do I really care about? Is the business focused on that?
- In what ways does our product or service genuinely add value to or nurture the community we live in and the natural environment?
- Does our manufacturing process minimise harm to the planet or does it move beyond harm minimisation and into nurturing our planet?
- How long before our customers start noticing the difference and choosing differently?
New business models that focus on the three elements of sustainability — community, environment and financial outcomes — are emerging and the market is ready for them. The time is ripe.
Dr Josie McLean, The Partnership