The uncertainty and chaos caused by the prevailing deadly pandemic clearly shows that although we live in a world complete with cutting-edge technological solutions for many of our problems, we are not really focusing on the ‘right’ problems. Are we addressing the world’s most challenging issues in the right way? The pandemic itself is proof that we have probably missed some of the most important aspects in this world and shown us that we lack innovation, investment and technological advancements in healthcare, education, environmental and many other areas. The current world order and the financial ecosystem as we know it, is fragile and it clearly is not focusing on the important issues that we need to solve as a human race.
With this realization, the world is starting to understand a little better and is making an effort to shift gears to creating and maintaining a more sustainable ecosystem with innovation at its core. Doomsday Hollywood movies have often depicted how our world may end in the most dramatic way – but the truth is we may be heading that way in reality unless we act fast. Are we too late to change course for the better? The good news is we can, but we need to act fast.
What is Sustainability?
Before we get into the solutions, we need to understand some of the underlying concepts and models that we can use to solve these problems. Sustainability has become a buzzword today, but what does it really mean? Let’s consider this definition “Meeting our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland Commission, 1987). It has three components — environmental conservation, social responsibility and economic development. While most people primarily associate sustainability with environmental conservation, it is about people and the health of our communities!
In 2015, the United Nations drew up a guideline called The Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They addressed the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice, encompassing all elements that need to be considered given that sustainability has a broader aspect. Businesses too can add great value to solve these problems if they have a clear focus on them.
How Can a Business Realign and Change?
- Develop a greater purpose – Businesses have typically had one financial objective – to increase revenue, create shareholder value, improve customer portfolio. However, today, this focus must shift slightly to have a bigger purpose. Companies today must invest in more sustainable ways of doing business, which include culture, impact to society and the community, as well as the environment.
- Shake off the legacy mindset – To be able to incorporate sustainable practices into your business, organizations need to focus on what’s called the triple bottom line. To build a purpose driven business or operate as one you need to have a long-term vision. Most businesses operate on short-term goals or quarterly based achievements. But, there needs to be a balance, meaning a business should have both short-term and long-term goals. These goals must be impactful with a larger and lasting impact on society and on the planet. It’s only then that any high-tech modern-day innovation can contribute meaningfully to sustain our existence.
- Carve out a different way to operate – A sustainability focus driven business needs to operate two steps ahead, which means they need to have a long-term focus. It also needs to be partnership oriented, which means it needs to be open to partners who have expertise in other areas and have common goals and vision. Above all, it needs to be human centric and must include an element of empathy.
- Nurture purpose-driven employees – No goal or innovation can be accomplished if you do not have the right talent and the required motivated and passionate mindsets. That is why your employees will be the biggest assets to transform or build a purpose driven organization or innovation. To do this, you must focus on creating a work environment where employees feel their job is more than just a paycheck by incorporating other intangible benefits. When organizations prioritize purpose over paychecks, they appeal to candidates who are committed, intrinsically motivated and show greater passion for a bigger cause in their work, especially among younger generations entering the workforce today.
The problem is very real and requires immediate attention. While much has been talked about and debated on many forums, some organizations lack the enthusiasm or sense of urgency to address these issues by redefining how they operate. In a nutshell, the future of businesses and companies are not going to be spreadsheet driven. It has been proven by Elon Musk and other modern-day entrepreneurs that their successes were achieved by trying to solve real-world problems. The mantra of organizations today should be to create wealth and value by adopting a larger purpose – one that recognizes and embraces the bigger picture of sustainability to positively impact people and the planet via innovation and disruptions.
“Disruption is the watchword in business today. With technology changing at hyper speed, corporations may struggle to build a foundation for long-term success. Traditionally, organizations have emphasized how much revenue they create and how many expenses they cut. With the challenges facing society today, that simple focus is no longer sustainable.” — Forbes