As we digest the agreements reached at COP26, it’s clear that the role of businesses in tackling major global challenges must continue to evolve. James Payne, Forum’s Associate Director - Transformational Strategies, provides an overview of Forum’s new report on business transformation towards a just and regenerative future.

“Normal is dead…” according to Alex Steffen, reflecting on the planetary and societal crises we’re currently experiencing. He points out: “We have a model for how change is supposed to happen — an orderly transition. It is no longer possible to achieve that orderly transition, to combine action at the scale and speed we need with a smooth transition and a minimum of disruption.” 

In Forum’s work with business leaders we are struck by how few fully grasp the scale of discontinuity and disruption coming our way in the decade ahead, as mounting inequality, the climate emergency and the destruction of nature intersect. And yet, understanding this is a vital first step to working out how to adapt, and how to actively shape a better future. Tinkering around the edges is neither smart for business, nor sufficient for the world we need.

The decade ahead needs nothing short of a deep transformation in how societies and economies work. And for a business to be future-fit, and part of that solution, it too needs to embrace a transformation that goes well beyond the 'sustainability commitments' of today.

We believe three key elements are central to this: setting a clear and inspiring destination to work towards; having solid guidance to navigate the way; and concrete pointers about where to start. Our new report, ‘A Compass for Just and Regenerative Business, provides all three.

1. Setting a clear and inspiring destination 

In the face of the huge challenges outlined above, it’s all too easy to give in to hopelessness and despair. It’s hard to get excited about achieving a slightly less harmful outcome or even a neutral impact. Big challenges call for audacity and vision. We believe that focusing on shaping a socially just and regenerative, thriving future is the guiding star that’s needed to stay on course through the turbulence ahead. 

A just and regenerative approach embraces the power of nature to renew and regenerate, understands that humans are a fundamental part of nature, and respects everyone's universal rights and potential to thrive.

This just and regenerative approach to business pursues a future in which:

  • social and environmental systems are thriving
  • planetary health has been rapidly stabilised; 
  • human rights are universally respected; 
  • fairer ways to create and distribute value have been adopted; and 
  • resilience and vitality across generations and geographies is supported.

2. Solid guidance to navigate the way

Building on a wide range of existing thinking, Forum has created the Business Transformation Compass, a new tool that explores four levels of action a business can take. But much more important than the level of action is the mindset or intent that guides it. 

The term ‘mindset’ is often used interchangeably with world-view or paradigm. It is a set of assumptions, concepts, and values that inform how we see the world. For individuals, it informs how we act, consciously or subconsciously. For communities or organisations, it underpins how we organise. Deep external transformation needs deep internal transformation; changing your mindset or paradigm is one of the deepest, most fundamental changes you can make.

The Compass outlines four mindsets we commonly encounter in business: risk mitigation, zero harm, do good and just and regenerative. Rather than working through these mindsets in sequence, we strongly recommend making the critical shift to adopting a just and regenerative mindset now, no matter the dominant mindset a business has had to date. This is because a just and regenerative mindset, guiding your actions, unlocks the potential for an enhanced response at all four levels of action. 

3. Concrete pointers for where to start

Too often, guidance for business practitioners stops at some high level principles or an abstract framework. Our approach is different. 

The Business Transformation Compass is brought to life by applying it to seven typically material sustainable development issues and eight key business functions. The critical shift from the first three mindsets to a just and regenerative one across all four levels of action are outlined for sustainable development issues such as decent work or human rights, to climate and nature; and for key business functions such as procurement, leadership, marketing and corporate affairs.

As well as sharing some examples in the main report, the full range of these ‘critical shifts’ are presented in the supplementary Guide to Critical Shifts. The detailed guidance here is intended as a ‘version 1.0’ and we are actively seeking to iterate this thinking.

This is for you if...’re keen to explore the cutting edge of sustainability thinking around social justice and regenerative approaches, presented in a way that is accessible for mainstream business people. 

Explore the report, use it to understand your business’s current perspective, choose a starting point for putting theory into practice and begin experimenting. To paraphrase Proust, the only true voyage of discovery is to see with new eyes, so as you explore this report, be open to a very different way of thinking about the world and business’s role in it. 

Find out more