Why planet, profit balance is crucial


The New Year has rolled around, coming along with new goals to score. While many efforts have been made ever since the global community adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) five years ago, 2021 presents a chance to move the sustainability needle farther.

The new year comes against a backdrop of triple challenges: global pandemic, climate change and deepening inequality. Yet the SDGs, whose overriding objective is to restore balance to the ecosystem and promote shared wealth and opportunities across households, are just nine years shy of their blinking 2030 deadline. Even before the pandemic struck, preliminary studies based on the recent trends had shown that it would be impossible to meet all the envisioned goals within the allocated timeframe.

The competing needs of public health crisis, climate change and inequality require shrewdness in resource allocation, driven by a blend of innovation, strategy and partnerships.

It also means that neither of the challenges can be downplayed, however slow or fleeting their effects on the society may be.

While the world has in recent months piled oversized focus on Covid-19, the virus is not, or rather should not be the only immediate concern. Climate change is quickly metastasising into a more virulent problem and social inequality deepening in a society where only one percent of the population controls more than half of the world’s wealth.

Extreme weather disasters such as cyclones, droughts, floods and wildfires caused economic damage of $232 billion in 2019 arising from a total of 409 natural catastrophes, according to insurance firm Aon. As a result, about 10,000 people lost their lives to weather-related natural disasters. More troubling is the fact that 2019 was the second warmest year on record for land and ocean temperatures since the year 1851, a trend that could worsen in the absence of strategic interventions.

How then can we accelerate the swing of the pendulum towards a balanced, sustainable living and co-existence across these realms?

Since no single actor can successfully tackle these curveballs on their own, collaboration is key in promoting shared value principle where every player in the economy – producers, policymakers, regulators and consumers – strive to adhere to responsible behaviour.

Individually, each player needs to bookend their new year strategies towards sustainability. This means that they need to outline with clarity the steps they look to take in the early months of the year, followed by those in the middle part and finally the tail-end. This segmentation helps break down yearly targets into more manageable chunks of tasks and gives way to incremental progress that can easily be measured against spent resources.

To this end, covering sustainable goals – people, planet and profit – with nimble steps may quicken the pace of progress despite recent pandemic-induced slowdowns. This applies to finding a sustainable health solution not only to the current Covid-19 virus but future possible outbreaks too as it does to inclusive and shared growth as well as a carbon-neutral natural environment.

Bookending a company strategy is more like bookending books in a library where it gets its name. Bookends, whether in the context of books or corporate strategies or public speaking, aim to provide balance between the start of a task or object and its end.

Managers and policymakers should, therefore, strive to envision how a project would shape up in the end right from its very conception. Important to note that project implementation should follow a flexible pathway.

Company and national policies have to be solid enough to sustain growth during good times and elastic enough to enable swift bounce-back during crises such as the current one. In other words they have to be flexible.

Following the virus outbreak, the need to embed flexibility in company policies has especially rocketed.

Besides designing lithe policies and models, a business could be made more flexible through strategic partnerships. Partnerships allow firms to focus resources on their areas of strength, leading to specialisation, competitiveness and efficiency, which they can share with their partners in a different field and gain similar benefits through reciprocity.

Joining synergies is more likely to lead to a convergence of progressive business models, which could increase efficiency for firms, lower their costs in adopting a new technology or branching out to a new field, as well as shorten project turnaround periods.

Essentially, elasticity of business models and partnerships hold the key to making a business flexible, resilient and sustainable.

In conclusion, moving the sustainability needle in the new year and beyond would require revamped efforts, strategies and resources.