As COP26 arrives, Forum’s Associate Director - Transformational Strategies, James Payne, and Global Programmes Director, Caroline Ashley, explore the need to reset our ambition, aiming not for a net zero world but a just and regenerative one.

Brace yourself. As COP26 kicks off in Glasgow, talk about the ‘race to zero’ and how decarbonisation is not happening fast enough is everywhere. Well, if you can’t face more bad news, look away now. Because Forum’s view is that even reaching a zero carbon economy is not enough. We need to aim beyond doing no harm - instead pinning our sights on creating a better world: a just and regenerative future. 

We have good news too. Aiming for a just and regenerative future can be the key that unlocks the rapid transformation we need. This approach gets to root causes, uncovers untapped potential, creates exciting new opportunities and can build resilience in the face of now-inevitable disruption ahead. 

In the long-term, it’s what will enable a wave of self-sustaining, positive transformation.

We need all players across the sustainability movement to adopt this guiding star. On 16 November, Forum along with key partners will launch a ‘Business Transformation Compass’ for just how business can transform after COP26. This will set out a just and regenerative future as a new guiding star for decision-making in businesses, and is needed for three reasons:

1.Conventional business sustainability approaches have not got us where we need to be 

We have had decades of ‘people planet profit’ or ESG talk, and some action. But humanity is simply not on track for the world we need. It’s not about just doing more, faster or better. Our industry partners have recently been expressing their own dissatisfaction: their current sustainability strategies are simply not getting them where they need to be quickly enough, particularly as they need to focus more and more beyond their direct operations to influence complex value chains. 

Continuing or seeking to accelerate approaches that aren’t working effectively is a recipe for disappointment. The complexity of these challenges requires a shift from approaches that work for simple, predictable challenges to ones that work for complex, uncertain issues. So, instead of trying to simplify challenges by breaking them down into predictable pieces, like a machine, we need to think differently, recognising and embracing the true complexity of the issues we face. 

This is central to a just and regenerative approach.

2.Social justice and environmental issues must be addressed together

The age of siloed teams and solutions is over. Climate is a social justice and human health issue and cannot be addressed just through a technical lens. Conversely, growing inequality reduces the capacity of disadvantaged communities to survive climate breakdown and ecosystem degradation. 

We need to recognise the intricate connections between social and environmental issues by adopting mental models and tools that do this. Our upcoming Business Transformation Compass explicitly unifies the key principles businesses can adopt to address social justice and regenerate both social and environmental living systems.

3.True transformation requires a new way of thinking, not just technical fixes

Project Drawdown shows how the world can move beyond zero emissions to a net drawdown of greenhouse gasses, simply using technology that exists today. Our inertia and failure to transform at the scale and pace required in the face of the climate, nature and inequality crises is not due to a lack of great solutions. 

So why don’t we act? 

Systems thinking identifies that the deepest lever for driving change is changing the dominant paradigm or mindset people have. Business players stuck in a ‘risk minimising’ mindset will not be able to see the potential to replenish nature and build people’s capacity. Even those with the more progressive mindset of ‘repairing harm’ might still focus tightly on problems. 

We believe that the ‘just and regenerative’ mindset helps to identify potential to create something better, a thriving world in which success is measured in human wellbeing and planetary health. 

Save the date: 16 November…

COP26 will come and go, at which point we will all be asking what’s next? Words will need to become action, quickly. Revisit us on 16 November for the launch of the ‘Compass for Just and Regenerative Business’ report, which is set to address the three challenges above by:

  • Setting out a robust definition of what being just and regenerative means for businesses
  • Sharing a Business Transformation Compass as a navigation guide for the transformation needed
  • Providing detailed recommendations to apply this new approach to key sustainable development issues and business functions