A transitional world economy moving towards sustainability offers enormous benefits. Currently, companies’ ability to shift towards sustainability is hindered by their need to generate profits particularly in the short-term.
Economic transformation towards a theme of sustainability has an importance beyond simply saving the environment, but rather achieving developmental needs and positive global change. Long-term transformation is needed to move towards a sustainable future and can be achieved through the following four methods.
Energy transition is critical in order to “to protect the natural life-support systems on which humanity depends, and to eradicate energy poverty in developing countries”. A global transition towards energy sustainability would arguably reduce the dependence of countries on oil-rich nations reducing their geopolitical might and inadvertently promoting peace.
Singapore currently seems to be leading the water revolution, transforming itself from a desperate water inadequate nation to a self-reliant nation, leading technology development towards recycling wastewater and desalinating seawater. Singapore’s fundamental goal has been to shorten the water circulation loop, allowing it to become a model for nations seeking to deal with droughts and floods.
Water is a key determinant of a nation’s success and development of old-fashioned methods of urban utility, like treating water in one location, become inadequate. China’s rapid development starkly illustrates the need to develop new water networks to handle urbanisation.
Many estimates suggest the global population will reach 9 billion by 2050 requiring an increase in food production of 70%. Sustainable agriculture is not only needed to empower developing economies and meeting global demand for food but reducing greenhouse gas emissions to deforestation.
Sustainable agriculture has the ability to economically benefit consumers and producers, protecting the environment and increasing social justice by improving work conditions and pay.
A 2011 study by researchers at Harvard and MIT found that “technology, such as computer-aided instruction (or mobile phone aided instruction), can boost student learning”.
Learning is not only being revolutionised in developed countries through the integration of technology and education but transforming how developing countries bridge the education gap. In order for developing nations to achieve their growth potential, an educated and skilled workforce is necessary and education is the best tool to empower them. Access to the internet will act as a knowledge equaliser to bridge the gap between schools in countries, for example, Kenya with a sub-tier schooling system; and the gap with Western society.
Paul Polman CEO of Unilever, recently said ‘we value a living tree higher than a dead tree’ indicating some concern. I am of the opinion that we need to focus on long-term returns rather than the quarterly appeasement of shareholders in order to achieve sustainable business growth. We have a responsibility to forego short-term gains for long-term reward and growth of all economies and to ensure environmental security.
We need to prioritise sustainability over profitability if we truly want to create a more sustainable business environment that achieves longevity and promotes environmental-friendliness. It is important to realise sustainable business models can be profitable and once achieved could result in advancements and product growth previously unthinkable as companies such as Tesla, Chipotle, Ikea, Unilever, Nike, Toyota, Brazilian beauty company Natura, Whole Foods and GE’s Ecomagination have shown. They have not only made sustainability profitable, but participate at the forefront of discoveries and developments within their fields due to the ambitious responsibility they have to achieve sustainability.
These companies within the private sector drive social and environmental change as they change social perceptions towards what is acceptable and expected by consumers. Competition to achieve product superiority and consumer social responsibility will bring rapid growth if primarily exploited by a company, as Tesla has shown. Tesla has ultimately accelerated technological expectations of electric cars and brought the future closer to us. We need to be ambitious, excited and responsible towards our future that lies ahead.