Moving Beyond Business As Usual Towards Sustainability

Last week, in partnership with HK Polytechnic, I co-organized with Poly U an event called the Opportunities Beyond Business as Usual for  nearly 100 alumni and business executives.  An event that came about through discussions about the future of business, and the future of social enterprises, we specifically made the decision to use the two hours to make the case that the meaning of moving beyond business as usual was going to change, that there were new stakeholders who would become important, and that leadership needed to bring in or build the capacity to make the recalibrations,

When building the presentation, embedded above, I focused on a few key message that I have been spending a considerable amount of time on lately:

  1. Business under usual, as defined by growth and profit maximization are of foremost concern, is a threatened model
  2. The speed and size of change to the model will be determined by the speed and size of environmental, social, and economic fissures.  Fissures which are by products of a model allowing for numerous externalities to act as subsidies to the system.  Subsidies that are in many cases the only reason for growth
  3. A correction will occur where business models that have embedded CSR and sustainability into the core will become the new Business as Usual
  4. The new Business As Usual model will (1) find GDP growth in Quality, not quantity (2) Economic and business models will be at full cost (3) externalities of firm will be the responsibility of the firm and (4) responsibility and accountability will be aligned.

The fourth point being perhaps the most important, and the most difficult, as my recent discussions with executives show that many are still trying to understand the fundamental questions of where the economy is headed and what it means for business are occurring.

Questions that at the global level are tied to climate change discussions, the acts of governments going forward, or the resource constraints that they are almost certainly going to feel in the next 10-15 years.  That, as disruptions of the environment, economy, and society take place, firms are beginning to see that changes to their business model must take place because with each disruption comes a pressure on the business as usual model to move towards responsibility/ sustainability.

Recent examples would include the protests in China over PX plants and paper mill water discharge, Greenpeace’s work to pressure firms purchasing packaging from APP to drop APP, HK protests increased housing prices and the rising number of mainland mothers occupying HK hospital beds.  Each issue a catalyst that has, even if in limited terms, forced many stakeholders to reconsider their positions and move towards a more responsive and responsible.

for me, it is here that firms need to begin understanding where they place their strategic interests when the curve shifts.  will firms wait until the catalysts grow large enough to force governments into action, and thus possibly pay a larger cost through stricter regulatory processes. Or, will firms begin looking at global standards and new products as a competitive advantage that in the short term reduces their margin, but long term ensures their place in the market while their competitors struggle?

Either way, what is becoming more and more clear is that as these catalysts occur, and the by products of business as usual are identified, there is a growing movement to redefine the responsibilities of business and push them towards better business models.  Governments are doing this.  consumers are doing this.  And for many, particularly those who fail to understand the effects of their byproducts, or feel there is still more than enough “away” to protect them, they are going to find themselves on the wrong side of the curve.

A position where no one wants to be because it is a place were risks of non-compliance grow, and where consumer actions rise.

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