Our path forward
In one sense, the overriding theme of our dinner debates could be described as “everything is different” (we all experience the challenges of sustainability differently in different regions of the world) as well as “everything is the same” (we have a shared belief about the solutions).
Here are some common themes about solutions:
It’s time to focus on the long term: All dinner participants highlighted the urgency of shedding our short-term focus in favor of pursuing a truly sustainable future. The debate in London emphasized the need for financial markets to lead the way, while the Beijing speakers discussed the role of government to incentivize change. As Generation Investment Management has argued, we must also shift the way financial markets operate, such as eliminating quarterly reporting cycles, aligning compensation with long-term performance and providing incentives for long-term investments.
We need to engage more effectively with consumers: In order to promote long-term social, financial, and environmental progress, we need to improve our communications about sustainability to consumers. In Shenzhen, buyers and suppliers struggle to install sustainability programs while consumers still prioritize cost over sustainability. In Hong Kong, hyper-consumerism is a major hurdle to change. Solutions include consumer- and employee-engagement programs that put a human face on the supply chain, as well as encouraging employees to have greater work-life balance.
Systems change is needed in the marketplace and in culture: It’s clear that large systems must change. Financial markets need to shift to account for externalities. In a world of radical transparency, this kind of disruptive change may just be possible. In addition, our global debates highlighted the need for systems change at the cultural level, such as in Hong Kong, where conspicuous consumption is almost overpowering, and in Beijing, where companies are held sway by an exploding economy.
Bottom-up solutions and individuals can help lead the way: From the New York discussion (about solutions coming from cities, local governments and companies) to the San Francisco discussion (about empowered individuals using technology to create a better future), it’s possible progress will result not from one but from many solutions and players. This also resonated with the discussion in Shenzhen which highlighted the unique roles of each layer in the supply chain -- from brand to manufacturer to worker. This also translates to the role of consumers around the globe who have yet to fully embrace sustainability.
We encourage you to consider your own role in these solutions -- and what you can do in your company, your industry and your community to accelerate progress.