Business in the Community’s Sustainability Director Dr. Alan Knight challenges business leaders to think not only about enhancing shareholder value in the short term, but also to consider their and their business’s legacy in the longer term:
We in the business community should value legacy more. CEOs and other business leaders are currently judged by the short term financial results of their organisation. This is clearly not wrong, but it should be balanced with ambitions for a longer term, but less measurable, contribution to society as a whole. For CEOs, this means thinking about how sustainable their company’s products/services, supply chain and business model are in a changing world.
On a planet with finite resources and a growing population, yet where we all want to live well, the numbers don’t add up. With the global population set to increase by nearly 30% over the next 40 years, every business must consider what their role is in delivering sustainable quality lives for the 9 billion people forecast to be living on the planet by 2050. At face value, such a challenge is overwhelming and no company alone can tackle this. However, if every company understood where their unique or most important contribution could be and could create a roadmap to deliver such a contribution - that would make a significant difference. By 2050, many traditional business models will no longer be feasible, and certain products/services will become obsolete or their production will be untenable due to resource constraints and other changing external factors.
Business leaders must develop their thinking to challenge conventional business models to ensure their business prospers by responding in the right way, and at the right time, to the issues that sustainability raises. Sustainability is not just about a company reducing a little waste or a little carbon, it is about fully embedding transformational thinking into every aspect of the organisation. It requires leadership at the highest level, and CEOs and other business leaders are best placed to deliver this.
Shwopping is an important example of a new business model shaped by sustainability trends. Being the first major retailer to begin ‘closing the loop’ in terms of their clothing business will be the sustainability legacy of Marks & Spencer, its CEO and other leaders of the business. CEOs, I urge you to consider: What is your business’s unique contribution to make your business more sustainable for a changing future? This will be your legacy and it will be far more valuable for your business, and for society, in the long term than solely considering today’s bottom line.
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