You go to the cash machine and decide to look at your balance. Oh dear. Overdrawn again. You make a mental note. Must stop spending. More than that, must try to pay back the debt and save up so you don’t end up overdrawn again.
Research by Rockstrom et al indicates that, as a planet, we’re already in our environmental overdraft. Biodiversity is being depleted at such a rate that the earth can’t replenish it. The amount of carbon emissions are more than the atmosphere can sustain without the climate changing. If we want to continue to survive and thrive on this planet we need to start to repay our environmental debts. Furthermore, we need to invest in the environment so we can begin to rebuild natural capital.
I was recently asked by someone at a foundation whether I knew of any good food charities to fund. I know plenty. But the first thing that occurred to me was: ‘don’t fund food charities!’
Before this gets taken the wrong way, let me backtrack. Many charities working in the food space are brilliant, and well deserving of funding. But there is something that foundations looking to support sustainable food often neglect – sustainable businesses working in this space. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps the thinking is that these are businesses and should therefore fund themselves through own core activities, or be able to pull funding from other sources. But the simple fact is, fledgling sustainable businesses often fall through the cracks because they are neither not-for-profits able to get charitable disbursements, nor fully mature, ‘fundable’ business models able to access more mainstream business financing sources.
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).
Happy New Year? Given the amount of bad news that has been surfacing around the world over the last couple of weeks, I would love to rewind a little. Go back to the simple joyous jumping up and down of my niece and nephews on Christmas morning, or swapping grandiose recipes for turkey curry with friends after too much mulled wine. Impossible of course, and not a very practical solution. Not really in keeping with working at Forum either - many of you will know that we are a very positive, forward thinking bunch…most of the time!
So I’ve been casting an eye over what we’ve got coming up in the Network and I think we have the perfect antidote to any negativity or underlying Scrooge-like symptoms that might threaten your return to the fray. Through our work we are constantly being exposed to examples of brilliant leadership and great innovations that give you hope, and we are bringing some of these to you over the next couple of months.
“All the old companies need to fit into the new economy.” That’s what I heard from Zipcar founder Robin Chase, upon returning from Christmas break, to discover that rental car giant Avis had acquired the car-sharing upstart. Only as I began to process what this might mean for my favourite way to move a sofa-bed around London, Mike Barry at Marks & Spencer tweeted that ‘old economy businesses’ are buying into the new economy, citing Avis as the latest taker.
After hearing these two, my fears of a Zipcar-as-walking-dead scenario subsided. I started to wonder what the Zipcar’s views are on the qualities an ‘old guard’ business can bring to a partnership with seemingly incompatible new economy ventures.
There has been a lot of comment on the way Starbucks and other companies have managed their tax affairs. The debate has focused on particular techniques companies have used and we can hope that those methods will be less prevalent in future. However I haven’t seen any comment on one aspect of company financing and tax which might eventually cause a problem for sustainability campaigners.
I can’t claim it’s the most exciting title for a blog. In fact it’s downright dull, but some things that are being talked about by central bankers raise questions for people concerned with sustainability.
Ben Bernanke and Mark Carney, the soon-to-be Governor of the Bank of England, have both recently discussed linking monetary policy to nominal economic growth rather than real economic growth. This would be a major shift. Not only might it put at risk the dis-inflationary achievements of the past 30 years, but by triggering accelerated growth in the current unsustainable economic model it will accelerate environmental damage. (To some extent the horrible balancing act of growth and environment is typified by the UK Government’s decision to approve fracking, which may boost growth but at the expense of carbon emissions.)
We follow the rules but they don’t take us far enough
More and more businesses are starting to think about how they might work together to tackle systemic challenges across their industries to make them more sustainable. The gap, however, between what is happening and agreed guidelines and standards is often far too wide.
The Eden Project - an inspiring example of not only how to use an old mining hole in the ground but how to drive
the regeneration of a region after the mining industry leaves
As 2012 draws to a close, I’m left with one abiding impression. For me, this was the year that government lost its bottle on sustainability. Here in the UK, we saw a rowing-back on green commitments and an abdication of environmental responsibility. In the US, neither presidential candidate thought climate change worthy of a mention during the election campaign. And internationally, when collected together for negotiations at Rio and Doha, the governments of the world showed a lamentable lack of leadership.
“Collaboration” is such a buzzword in business and sustainability circles right now, popping up regularly in my inbox in event invitations, reports, newsletters and blogs. From the conference circuit to the twittosphere, the stories of this year’s new and sometimes unusual partnerships, and the great results they’re having, are really getting out there.
Collaborations and partnerships around a particular challenge are nothing new – what’s exciting is the type and depth of challenges being tackled (bigger, trickier, longer-term) and the potential emerging for big changes to ‘business as usual’.
The Forum for the Future is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Overseas House, 19-23 Ironmonger Row, London, EC1V 3QN, UK. Registered charity no. GB 1040519. Company no. 2959712. VAT registration no.162347319