Metatrend 3: the growing focus on sustainability and environment

Author: Arjen van Berkum
Today’s leadership has to deal with new challenges that have not yet been embraced in the world of business schools and is not part of the everyday curriculum of the average MBA. Focusing on the future however is of paramount importance for the leader of today, more than ever before. One of the great trends I would like to explore from a business ecosystem perspective, is the growing focus on sustainability and environment.

Climate change is not just about the weather

Over the last years we have seen that the world is embracing the fact that climate change impacts our world and cannot be ignored. It started with a few people noticing a trend in which companies started to address the way they work and change it into a more sustainable approach. A lot of people understand the reality of the impact and the urgency for change. For some people it is difficult to understand that “weather” and “climate” are different entities, but the focus on what your effect of being is on your total supply chain and how it will affect your license to operate, becomes ever more urgent.

Sustainability as accelerator for growth in times of climate change

Sustainability is no longer about the marketing purpose, it is an actual part of the day to day operation. Thus of your day to day ecosystem. The re-use of materials will create new markets, where your waste actually is transformed into the raw material of a product of another business . A great example can be found in the area of coffee machines. The waste of coffee machines (grounded used beans) are excellent growing places for fungi. So, here is a chain to be managed to gain growth out of your footprint. Off course, there are many more examples.

In 2020 we saw with an increasing focus of groups of people on their rights and positions. Examples are the gay community, black lives matter and the new feminist movement. This is also climate, our societal climate. It’s changing too. Sustainability in a society means to actively engage with society. This will become more and more important and with the overall climate change it is also part of your ecosystem. How do your business partners fit into your social footprint? How are employees aligning with the company’s outlines on this matter? Is there a reputational risk involved in this? How do you report on this?

Finding a business case in sustainability

The duration of machines and equipment is getting better all the time. So whilst machines might be economically end of life, there will be opportunities to transfer these machines into other environments where the capabilities of the machines still suffice. Examples like reusing top-end medical devices from developed economies to lesser developed economies to reduce cost in the total chain and improve the global quality of live are first pilots that successfully proof that finding a business case in sustainability is something that can be achieved.

Technology developments in like AI, micromanufacturing, self-healing machines and robotics all drive possibilities to expand economic wealth. However, it requires that you are open to work in an ecosystem. Not focus on oneself, but focus on the bigger picture of the entire ecosystem and supply chain. And that is where for me the quintessential first step needs to be taken today. Understanding your ecosystem. How do you work with partners. How do you drive maximum value from your ecosystem whilst at the same realizing the good for the planet and its inhabitants (not just people). This requires a structural approach of working together, with effective objectives as a starting point. For me, sustainability is one of those key objectives that should get a prominent role in contracts, it should be in there as one of the key objectives. That should align day to day operations with the organizational sustainability objectives and forge a strong emphasis on this topic internally.