In 1997, in his first CEO Summit keynote speech, Bill Gates said
“there’s a tendency to overestimate how much things will change in 2 years and underestimate how much change will occur over 10 years.”
If we think about sustainability and the needed changes in society, that is clearly the case. Think about yourself in 2001. Or maybe a decade earlier, in 1991. In my case, in 1991, I was growing up at an agricultural town in the South of Brazil. Most of the small farmers planted tobacco, very few people made it to the university and tossing a candy wrap out of the car window was common.
In 2001, I was a sophomore at university. The Ethos Institute
had just been created in Brazil and GRI
had just released its first Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. I didn’t know of both by them. Time passed. In 2006 there were 1190 companies associated to Ethos and in 2010 over 1400 companies published sustainability reports according to the GRI standards.
So, what’s in front of us in the next decade? I have no doubt the sustainability agenda will keep growing
towards becoming mainstream. From 2001 to 2010, it was still innovators’ business. Nobody really knew if it would be good for profits and the environmental problems were not as evident. Now we know we have a huge energy dilemma and climate change is a reality. Besides, politicians feel the need to present an environmental platform and 93% of Global Compact 766 CEOs see sustainability as important to their future success
. In my opinion, we’ve been building momentum and now it’s time to bring the sustainability agenda into its element.
Having said that, it’s crucial to point out the sustainability agenda is supposed to be meaningful and practical for each organization
. Not every company should care about biodiversity or health or carbon emissions, although all those issues are important to society. A bank shall focus on financial education, a cosmetics firm shall do species conservation, beverages producers shall save water, logistic companies shall reduce their emissions and household appliances developers shall look at energy efficiency. On top of that, there’s obviously room for radical technology innovation (e.g. low cost renewable energy solutions) and social innovation (e.g. peer-to-peer landing).
In this sense, I had a mind-blowing experience last Friday, at work. In the middle of a household appliances market downturn, I’ve seen 36 people getting together aimed to reach a 15% reduction in energy and water consumption per manufactured product – it’s a lot harder to reach the goal with low production, because some of the machines need to be on no matter how many products we make. (In the end of the day, energy efficiency is a big cause for Embraco
and we want to go beyond the product itself, which is already the most efficient in the world.) In addition to the specialists’ and operators’ group, I’ve heard 4 managers spontaneously and resourcefully talking about the importance of the initiative for our corporate sustainability commitment and for reaching satisfactory economic, social and environmental results, for us and for the next generations.
This is the type of construction that doesn’t happen in 2 years. People need more than that to feel comfortable bringing the subject to work, proposing projects and influencing other people in this direction, both inside the company and with stakeholders. And this is the kind of focused efforts that I expect to see more and more in the next decade.
I don’t know exactly how much we can accomplish in 2 years. But I believe our foundations and experiences are getting strong enough to reduce our footprint and respond to some of society’s demands. In the end of the day, we can roughly tell what will happen in the next 10 years.
Labels: Business, Sustainability