The narrative of sustainable development between now and 2050 will experience a high degree of de-toxing.  The emotions of blame, guilt, and judgment will be replaced with optimism, inspiration and direction. 

We will stop telling people what they are doing wrong and instead highlight what they can do right. 

Sustainable development will not be a moral choice, but a practical challenge; and one where every element of civil society will make a contribution.  It’s not about good or bad.  It will be seen as a project that requires practical and coordinated thinking.  Contradictions will be purged and will be replaced by a can-do, project focused, practical approach, free from judgment and ideology.

Maybe the simplest answer is that we should manage the planet’s resources in the same way supermarkets manage their supply chains. Businesses maximize their ability to provide what their consumers want in such a way that it helps grow their business. A supermarket, for example, would never meet customer demands by cannibalizing the health of its finances or infrastructure. That basic management skill will be transferred to those with a say in how the larger natural resources of the planet will be managed.

In the 1900s and 2000s, procurement policy drove considerable change in natural resources management. In the 2020s and beyond, data about the economic value natural resources bring to national economies will result in more land use decisions being made by the nations who own those resources, in close collaboration with the markets. Public policy will have the data and incentives to make better long-term decisions. We can only do that through a shift from campaigns and criticism to conversation and collaboration.

The dream in my rethinking of corporate sustainability is a world where every company, every organisation in the world could answer this question:

My product’s positive and negative contribution towards helping the world achieve 9 billion sustainable lifestyles by 2050 are as follows….

It’s subtle but it’s very different from “You are bad because….”

And that’s what I’m talking about: changing the narrative. While retailers currently contribute to a lot of the problems we are trying to solve, they do have some disciplines which are useful in providing the answers to that key question.

My experience, observation and insights suggest that this is a positive way forward – a way of rethinking our understanding of corporate social responsibility.

Rethinking Corporate Sustainability – If Only We Ran the Planet Like a Shop! (374.8 KB)