New Study Asks: Can Globalization and Sustainability Coexist?

New Study Asks: Can Globalization and Sustainability Coexist?

In a blunt assessment of the business operating context in 2027, a new report sponsored by Shell, Ford, Novo Nordisk, Vodafone, The Skoll Foundation and others predicts that not only will there be new rules for sustaining business success over the next twenty years, but that "the game itself is poised to change profoundly. There will be winners and losers; but there is no more business as usual."

More than two years in the making, "Raising Our Game: Can We Sustain Globalization" was released by SustainAbility, a corporate responsibility and sustainability consultancy. It exposes the interplay of sustainable development and globalization that will define the future. "Navigating this terrain will challenge the global business community like nothing previously experienced," said co-author John Elkington.

The study depicts four alternate scenarios for the year 2027 in a card game format, where clubs, hearts, diamonds, and spades represent various combinations of environmental and societal wins and losses.

"Grounded in the hard realities that business and policy leaders face now and through 2027, Raising Our Game is neither a starry-eyed look at a rosy future, nor a 'chicken little' prediction of inevitable calamity," said Jonathan Halperin, SustainAbility's Director of Research and Advocacy in Washington. "It is about the hard choices we face, and what they mean for us all down the road. As the stakes rise, innovation, entrepreneurship, and effectively sourcing ideas and talent from emerging economies will be essential to managing the worsening divides that now threaten global stability."

The report's authors say the complexities of globalization and the evolving global sustainability agenda will define markets and politics in the 21st century. Where these processes will take the world business market, as well as their implications for corporate responsibility and sustainable development are covered in a variety of ways in the report.

Four scenarios are used to examine a variety of variables in which society and the environment alternately win or lose. The best-case scenario, "Hearts," finds a "second Renaissance," a world in which demography, politics, economics, and sustainability gel. The next-best situation is called "Spades," and although society wins with the creation of global, democratic systems, the environment loses when governments are "unwilling to take the political risks of asking voters to make sacrifices in favor of the common good."

The worst-case scenarios are "Clubs," wherein the global elites " use environmental sustainability as an excuse for denying the poor access to their fair share of natural resources;" and "Diamonds," which finds demographic trends and the spread of western lifestyles devastating ecosystems and creating challenges that "disable decision-makers and overwhelm society's ability to respond effectively."

The report's authors push policymakers and business leaders to embrace seven recommendations for building a successful sustainability movement:
  1. Plan for the unexpected -- in a world that is accelerating and becoming more complex, it will be vital to build in flexibility whether in technology platforms, supply-chains, or human resource policies.
  2. Find true South -- the extent to which the interests of the emerging economies will clash with those of the developed North can scarcely be exaggerated. So focus sustainability efforts and investments on regions and cities where the population is booming and development needs are highest.
  3. Don't expect nice companies to come first -- Even the best corporate citizens can be damaged by scandals, controversies, and economic discontinuities. Over time the capacity to create true blended value will become a defining characteristic of tomorrow's successful global businesses.
  4. Co-evolve Earth's immune system -- Social and ecological shocks are already catalyzing the development of a civil-society-led 'immune system' for the Earth. Be part of this to help accelerate its development and serve as a source of market intelligence -- and creation.
  5. Think opportunity -- and innovation -- Reframe social and environmental issues not just as risks but also as sizeable market opportunities.
  6. S-t-r-e-t-c-h -- The scale of the challenges is immense and will require radical approaches to catalyze breakthrough solutions. Business and other leaders will need to reach beyond their comfort zones in finding new models, new technologies, and new partners in sourcing -- and scaling -- solutions.
  7. Do the politics -- This agenda is now political. Get involved and take stands. The time has come for the vision, courage, innovation, and enterprise needed to leapfrog into a different world.
The full report, "Raising Our Game: Can We Sustain Globalization" is available for download from GreenBiz.