Published June 2021
While you might have heard the words in the title before, you have not understood them it in the context of the future world which is approaching really fast. Businesses, communities and our families have less than five years or so to prioritize what is important. This time period is not an exaggeration. In South Africa, where we have so many other challenges and inequalities it is extremely hard to focus on tomorrow when most people are barely coping with today. For South Africans, we have to burn both ends of the candle to succeed.
Let me start this very important article by explaining why sustainable and ethical business is the only type of business we can have in the new world.
In the future, clients will be smarter than ever before. This does not mean their IQ will increase, but rather the consumer of the future will be vastly more informed, socially aware and environmentally caring. If a business does not evolve, long term brand devotion will be impossible to maintain, no matter how many loyalty cards are handed out.
A business will be dropped without any hesitation and done so with confidence, because clients want no part in Ecocide. Ecocide is the destruction of the natural environment or its resources either deliberately or by negligence and will very likely have legal criminal ramifications in the coming years, probably starting with the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is already dealing with such a matter, and if sanctioned will affect the 123 member countries, including South Africa.
A little nugget of extra information. Business and trade will expand far past our physical borders and political agendas, the future will have ethical and sustainable shopper’s world-wide. The Jacob Zuma administration had moved to withdraw South Africa from the ICC, and the issue is now under consideration by Cyril Ramaphosa.
Social media started the era of ‘flip flopping’ customers. As clients mature, a sale will be made based on a business’s reputation related to sustainability. Not the type of sustainability we know in terms of revenue, but rather around the questions customers will have in their minds before they decide to ‘check out’, they will ask first: “Is this business using natural resources to provide this product in such a way that the planet can replenish the resource?”. If the answer is ‘no’ in their mind, the sale will be lost.
We have a lot of work to do. The biggest challenge of today is dealing with the uninformed, the ignorant, naive and the irresponsible. Education is the number one focus to ensure this generation decides to make ‘sustainability’ a priority in the work place and at home.
Where are we today as a Species?
This was a very hard section to write because it left me feeling incredibly guilty. We are a species that consumes, wastes and acts in the interests of our own tribes. This way of life might have worked in the past, and perhaps facilitated industrialization, but due to our population count today, it no longer is sustainable, never mind ethical. There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet today, and all of us have habits that need to change.
Every day we consume 140 million burgers. 2393 litres goes into making one burger and 64.5 square feet of land is needed. By my calculations over 836 127 360 square meters of land, roughly three times the size of all of United Kingdom, has to be set aside just for this purpose.
Every day, we burn 96 million barrels of oil, we cut down 2.4 million trees, 8 million pieces of plastic reach the ocean, 3.5 million tons of food is wasted, while we have almost 700 million people without food. It is a fact that humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 Earths resources to provide what we need to live and also absorb our waste. About one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the world, which works out to 2 million every minute.
Today's extinction rate for plants and animals is hundreds if not thousands of times higher than the natural baseline rate. 50 years ago, in the 1970s, our population was 3.1 billion people. Since then, we have accelerated our population count and the rate of destruction for natural spaces at a speed that is hard to fathom. Today, only 23% of the planet's land surface (excluding Antarctica) and 13% of the ocean can still be classified as wilderness.
Normal, was not right.
The ‘new normal’ needs to be better because we have run out of space, we have run out of water, we have run out of time, and we need to find our moral compass because today, instead of addressing our obvious bad habits, we continue to reshape this planet to serve the immediate needs of this generation only. While I could write books about the natural disasters prompted as a result of our habits, this is not the purpose of this specific article, which is to talk about the role of business.
The ‘work environment’ is where the majority of our worse habits are sustained and also justified by commercialists. If we do not change to sustainable and ethical business, this planet will become unconducive to humanity within a lifetime, which means every child born today will either inherit hell on earth, or a future world where man has reintegrated itself back into the eco system, and harmonized its technology and civilizations into the natural world. The environmental and social reasons to become a sustainable and ethical business are obvious. We have an unprecedented opportunity for us to shine.
The rest of this article is divided into a few short sections, all of which are business specific concepts I hope inspire discussions in your office. Ultimately everyone, at all management levels, need to start the journey of change voluntarily. We only succeed once every individual makes the decision.
What is a circular economy?
It is a new world economy based on a number of fundamental principles:
The overall outcome of a circular economy will see societies use autonomous solutions, sustainable natural resources and processes, and the entire lifecycle of a person, their job, their way of life, be in harmony with the natural environment. A circular and subscription economy is more resilient to natural, man-made and even political disasters. You can expect many more of these in the coming years.
A sustainable business can adopt many principles from the ‘circular economy’ in the way it sources, produces and provides its products or services:
A circular and a subscription economy will be empowered by big data, future tech and the ethical future consumer.
What is a subscription economy?
The subscription economy has been around for a while. It started off gradually with things like gardening services. Now it is in its ‘teen years’ with things like Netflix, SAAS, and even prepaid electricity. A subscription economy is the ‘Eve’ to the ‘Adam’ of a circular economy and has grown more than 430% in the last decade.
The concept is to only pay for what you use, when you want to use it, or when you need it, but without having to pay for all the upkeep, maintenance or development costs. Another way to look at it is ‘subscription fees’ go into a ‘big pot’, which then cover the overall costs to develop or produce a product or service. Everyone who has a subscription gets to share the product or service. This way of doing things enables massive scalability and access.
The concept can mature further, for example: one might in the future never again need to own a car. What for, when you can lease one on the days you need it, at a fraction of the price and with none of the hassles? The same theory can be applied to just about everything we have in our office or home such as printers or washing machines.
‘Subscriptions’ are loved by business because with the advancements of tech and data, the company can build a close relationship with their client by offering a customized service, enabling them to stay in contact and sell more over a longer period of time.
The gig economy is a type of ‘open sourced subscription economy’ in many ways, but often focused on human resources as a service. Think Uber.
The more a business can integrate into a circular and a subscription economy, the more products and services it can offer to customers, while using less, repurposing more and not cutting profit. Clients enjoy not having to maintain equipment or property, saving money, and still having access to everything they ever wanted. With this new way of operating, our ability to achieve the objectives in the bullet points below is in reach:
What is a Sustainable and Ethical Future Business in real life practice?
It is simply about business habits and practices which first serve the objective of reducing a business’s footprint across the entire supply chain. A footprint explicitly related to the use of water and land, and then of course carbon footprint which covers everything else like travel, energy and waste.
Spanner in the works.
People in a company are considered a ‘business resource’, and in order to achieve a sustainable operation, many organizations will roll out automation because a machine has a far lower carbon footprint. The debate about ‘shouldn’t people come first’ becomes a real dilemma. The hard pill to swallow for many is that a Sustainable and Ethical Future Business does not put people above everything else. Labour unions in South Africa are going to have a real tough time dealing with future trends, like automation, which challenges their relevance, forcing them to adapt or become obsolete. This article is not about the types of jobs people will have in the future, I have already written an article about that. Suffice to say, as long as people upskill themselves, they will have employment.
Sustainable and Ethical Future Businesses put all living things and natural resources on the same level. Economic or social objectives will never vitto environmental. Without a healthy environment you can never realize a stable state of economics or social equality. A Future Business in principle will become a guardian of the natural, social and economic eco systems.
Time for Action.
The first thing I need to say is that the biggest mistake we can make is spending more time writing down even more ideas and deciding how to implement them all at once. We already have many of the tools needed to implement the ideas we have today. Another way to say it: “there is no need to work out how to do everything all at once before we start doing anything at all.” For those at a complete loss and also to get the creative juices flowing, here are just a few points for everyone to start working on today.
See you in the Future, Future Business.
About Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline
He is a Business and Environmental Technologist. An entrepreneur who runs several online businesses. He is a published Author who researches, consults and facilitates strategy sessions about the most important matters affecting our generation and the changes to technology, business and the environment. Services include:
Future Thinker. Innovator. Change Expert. Industry 4.0 & IoT Specialist. Green & Sustainable Solutions. Digital Marketing, Security, Devices & Trends. Author, Consultant, Project Manager & Scenario Planner.
Published June 2021Read more articles