Being successful in 2013 (or, the certainties, the uncertainties and what to do about both)
Success for anyone involved in sustainability in 2013 will require a smart response to a rapidly changing business context. Nothing new there then, we all know the world is changing quickly. The tricky bit though, is that there are some trends we can be fairly certain about, and some, well, that are quite uncertain.
Quite a long list including increased frequency of extreme weather events, fuelled by our changing climate, continued volatility in world commodity markets, the odd resource crunch, a widening gap in social equity between the have and have-nots, in both developed and developing markets and ballooning costs (on all fronts) of dealing with worsening chronic disease burden (again in both developed and developing markets).
We will, of course, continue to see low to no growth in many developed markets, with economic growth in developing markets maybe slowing a little, but still outpacing the sluggish economies of the west. The digitalisation of the global economy will continue at pace, with social media continuing to redefine the way we communicate. And these two latter trends, low to no growth and proliferation of digital platforms, will drive exponential growth in the sharing economy, from rooms to cars to pre-loved clothes. To see more detail of these trends, which were discussed at Forum's CSO partner dinner click here (members only).
Will civil society find its collective voice? Will we see another Occupy Movement, but one that leads to real and lasting change? Just how much will concern about our ailing environment and social injustices drive purchasing behaviours of the so-called middle green? What will happen if digital platforms provide super-highways for the latent anger amongst citizens who have had enough of being taken for a ride by big business? This brings us to the banks, and the shady world of investment that pulls the strings of the global economy. Will 2013 be the year that mainstream investors learn to love sustainability?
And, Certain Uncertainties
And just to make life even more complicated, some of the more certain trends, such as extreme weather events, will be very uncertain in their impact. Will we see an export ban on Russian wheat in July or August?
So, what does this all mean for business?
There’s no shortage of good advice for sustainability professionals right now – see for example Mike Barry’s blog for the Huffington Post. Your task list might already be quite long. Time, then, to prioritise. Here are my 3 top tips for a successful 2013:
Collaborate. For the pioneers and leaders, already well down the sustainability road, time to collaborate more effectively with competitors, customers, investors and government to solve those tricky issues that are just too big to solve alone. For those businesses still quite new to sustainability (where have you been?), time to collaborate internally, forming the processes and teams designed to create a coherent response to sustainability challenges.
Celebrate the wins, big and small. In these uncertain, economically constrained times, every cost saving accrued through an eco-efficiency measure should be broadcast widely, every new contract won where sustainability helped should be shouted about, and every customer delighted by your sustainability programme should be logged. All this celebration will serve to reinforce the business case for sustainability, equally important for the leaders and beginners alike; for the beginners a clear business case will maintain early momentum, and for the leaders, a consistent business case will help convert the last of the C-suite cynics, who at the moment could be the difference between incremental and transformative change.
- Be creative. The hugely successful new business models typifying the sharing economy, AirBnB, ZipCar etc, are essentially a creative response to some of the certain trends described earlier. The shift to leasing models is also a creative response to the need for dematerialisation (more utility for less stuff). How might you unleash the creative energy in your business to do new and better things with less, and to bring products and services to market that inspire and delight? This all might require losing the paralysis that fear of failure can invoke – sometimes we need to fail to succeed.
Of course, success is not a certainty. But these changing times demand new approaches and a slightly different skill set from the one currently taught on most MBAs. By understanding the certainties and uncertainties that will shape 2013, and through collaboration, celebration and creativity, 2013 might be the year you succeed through sustainability.