Connected Business Thinking | Sustainability Strategy

1. 2009 Reflection – The slow death of the free-market

The global economic recession, which peaked in 2009, led many to question neo-liberal/neo-classical capitalism. Well, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that it initiated conversation that was not before very present amongst civil society, markets, the media, Royalty, and even government.

In October 2008, The Washington Post posited “The End of American Capitalism?”. March 7th 2009, Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times “What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall – when Mother Nature and the market both said No more!” In Britain, Queen Elizabeth asked “Why did no one see the crisis coming?.” A group of eminent economists wrote to the Queen in response to her questions and talked of “failure of the collective imagination of many bright people” and of the “psychology of denial”.

President Sarkozy suggested that “A great revolution is waiting for us. The crisis doesn’t only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so.” On March 12, the Financial Times ran a front-page story with the headline “Welch Denounces Corporate Obsessions.” Jack Welch, the former head of General Electric (GE), had described the business emphasis on shareholder value as “misplaced.”

What’s become clear is that the failure of capitalism 1.0 lies in the things that the ‘free market’ leaves untouched and unaccounted for: debt, risk, wellbeing, social justice, ecosystem services, energy/food/ water supply and on. How our eyes were opened to these failures mid economic crisis. And how then the world seemingly reverted back to credit comfort and high-street spend as soon as the engine of growth began to tick over again? Will it require

‘Economic Collapse #2? Before we rebuild and begin the great economic revolution that Sarkozy visions? Or, on reflection, are we somewhere mid paradigm shift, so profoundly awakened by what happened to the economy in 2008-09 and moved by an increasing ecological literacy?

2010 Predictions

  • Climate change, the global commons and economics understood as a connected whole. The benefits of unending economic growth are not compensating for the vast damage risks they create – energy security, global warming, ecological destruction, poverty, debt and financial risk.
  • Continued discussion on ‘beyond growth economics’, sparked by civil society and leading figures such as Sarkozy, The Archbishop of Canterbury and Joseph Stiglitz.
  • The emergence of peer-to-peer/collaborative business models and mutual ownership; a ground-up and innovative response to the failures of current capitalist framework.
  • A rise in media content and published thinking on new forms of property management of the commons such as what James Quilligan, economist and administrator on international development, calls “co-governance” and “co-production”, writes On The Commons.

2. 2009 Reflection – Socialising climate change

COP15 gave climate change (and ecosystems) a social platform and a global conversation not present since The Inconvenient Truth. This lead up to an undertaking at COP15 in December, provided the “Inconvenient Truth” for citizen engagement and corporate participation. In other words, it gave the world a 2009 pillar for which to build a conversation around climate change and ecosystem collapse. Tck Tck Tck,, Hopenhagen,, The Climate Leaders Summit, Governors’ Summit, Youth Climate Leaders etc. shifted world citizens and business leaders from awareness to some level of activation and a lot divided opinion. It created conversation (17,000 people in Copenhagen and the world watching on) that was not there before. Despite the failure to arrive at a meaningful and legally binding agreement on climate change, COP15 gave citizens, brands and leaders a platform.

The need for conversation, participation and engagement on climate change, ecosystems, well-being and economics, between citizens, NGOs, brands, businesses, the media and political figures, continues to grow. Post-Copenhagen the question remains, what organising platform or striking leadership will continue to enable this going forward? And how do we shift conversation from a macro platform to move global stakeholders along the curve of engagement to build long-term sustained political movement and actual transition on the ground?

2010 Predictions

  • Greater emphasis on citizen, business and political engagement strategies to drive change: brand, business and political platforms that enable participation, points of view, and collaboration.
  • Open platforms to connect thinking, innovation, and technology that drive world change, and give identity to the collective.
  • A shift from elitist response to climate change and wellbeing, to a democratic and collective opportunity to live our lives better.

3. 2009 Reflection – Beyond CO2

Deforestation, water depletion, toil-soil degradation, peak food, and disappearing bees, gave the world some reference to a beyond CO2 discussion on climate change and towards a global commons view. The complex and overwhelming truth, ever more exposed including at Copenhagen, is that the environmental challenge of our day is not only one of mitigating levels of CO2 to reduce global warming. The challenge is to understand ‘the commons’ as a whole; that how we manage natural resources and ecosystems in one part of the world is wholly connected to all of us in other parts – and our one climate as a whole.

A visibly obvious example, global deforestation – Indonesia alone has lost 72 percent of its indigenous forest – has led to biodiversity destruction and the disappearance of a massive carbon sink and cloud cover generated by the forests. Forest degradation through agricultural expansion, conversion to pasture land development, destructive logging, fires etc., account for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.

Not only have we depleted the amount of forest to absorb carbon, in destroying forests we destroy topsoil and biodiversity, which in turn further emit carbon dioxide.

Ecosystems services and tackling climate change is wholly interlinked and the world is taking note. Perhaps more opportune is to suggest that citizens and communities are better able to understand and value ecological systems – be they food, forests water, oil, or minerals than they are able to place close at heart CO2 levels and a warming planet (invisible, abstract and distant).

2010 Predictions

  • A greater understanding of our individual personal responsibility for the eco-system the global commons that we all share; an understanding that the atmosphere has no propertied boundaries as our lands and seas had no legal boundaries centuries ago.
  • A narrowing gap between ‘climate change mitigation’ (reducing greenhouse gases) and ‘climate change adaptation’ and ‘ecosystem services’. As the impacts of climate change and ecosystem destruction are felt, and broken market systems such as intensive farming are greater understood, we will begin to see the beyond science to the global systems issues and start to drive change at this level.

4. 2009 Reflection – Towards a ‘Commons’ framework

Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics, in 2009. Interesting that she is a woman, but that’s not really the notable bit. It is her outspoken work on a radical rethink of capitalism towards the development of a commons framework that decouples resources from the short-term interests of markets, which is. Ostrom’s work emphasises how humans interact with ecosystems to maintain long-term resources yields.

Her analysis on economic governance show how privatising natural resources is not the route to long-term sustainable economies. She debunks the ‘Tragedy of The Commons’, which assumes that individuals are ruthlessly selfish therefore planetary commons must be privatised to ensure individual self-interest protects it.

Her work has looked at forests, lakes and fisheries that are managed by communities, with a shared responsibility to the land – similar to a ‘trust’. And has examined the use of collective action, trust and cooperation in the management of ‘common pool resources’ (such as fish stocks). Her Noble Prize represents a renewed and very public discussion on the economic framework required to address climate change and ecosystem collapse.

2010 Predictions

  • The rise of Capitalism 3.0 thinking and an “upgrading of Capitalism’s operating system”, according to Jules Peck (my business partner) and Robert Phillips of Citizen Renaissance.
  • An emergence of a new economists and highly publicised new economic thinking (coupled with a philosophical debate); very public discussion around commons governance.
  • The coming of age of climate policy and debate, to incorporate the global commons.

5. 2009 Reflection – The rise of collaborative consumption and cooperation

This (2009) year the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution declaring 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives that is, businesses that belong to their workers or the people who use them, according to

A flurry of leading business and marketing authors published or soon to publish the rise of ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ consumption (the same thing), where citizen or business communities ‘group buy’, barter or rent, instead of relying on single ownerships and limited use. Include John Grant’s book “Co-opportunity” (who is my other business partner), which launches this coming January, and Rachel Botsman’s book “Collaborative Consumption”, later in 2010, amongst many others listed on Shareable’s book list for 2010.

Many have called for the ‘John Lewis’ model of employee partnerships (a mutual model) in business and the public sector, including UK’s Labour government who launched an investigation to how far it can go applying the John Lewis Partnership model to hospitals, schools and housing. Though it was the right-leaning think tank Respublica, founded and run by Philip Blond.

The State of Ownership, which claims to have started the mutualism debate. Blond advocates a “new civil state would restore what the welfare state has destroyed – human association”. He suggests that the state turn itself over to citizens through a new power of association or communities.

2010 Predictions

  • The rise of collaborative economics, cooperation and mutualism; new platforms or even currencies that enable communities of interest to yield business and social value.
  • Decentralisation of markets and a greater connection to natural and social capital. (Deconstruction of our highly industrial food system, towards local and a relationship with food production as example).
  • A greater emphasis on communities to address social, economic and environmental challenges. A connection between sustainability
    challenges and “Wellbeing Economics” demonstrating that living a good life does not have to ‘cost the earth’ indeed the opposite.

6. 2009 Reflection – ‘Open Source Planet’

The Climate Group (TGI) announced the launch of “The Planetary Skin Institute”, in openhagen. PSI has been established to research anddevelop near-to realtime global monitoring on environmental conditions, according to TGI. It is a platform for open collaboration between public, private, academic and NGO sectors. The new institute draws on several years of R&D public/private partnership between Cisco and NASA. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced the launch of “Open Energy Info” – a platform to connect the world’s energy data. It is a linked open data platform bringing together energy information to provide improved analyse, visualisations and real-time access to data. And builds on The White House’s Open Government Initiative.

Ethical Economy and Tomorrow’s Company launched “Climate Commons” a global open platform for corporate, citizen and government climate communities to share innovation and progress. And early 2010 will see the launch of Nike and Best Buy’s “Green Xchange” open innovation platform on sustainable materials development.

Open (innovation) platforms part build on an increasing understanding that climate change and ecosystems are a global commons issue, and part address the burgeoning need to connect global communities of interest and drive movement. Unlikely partnerships and greater collaboration between business, government, NGOs and citizens are critical to addressing systems issues. And organising platforms, like these listed, are emerging as enablers.

2010 Predictions

  • Announcements of wholly unlikely partnerships between competing/non-competing businesses and brands, countries, cities, majors, government departments, citizen communities and leading figures.
    An open movement for planetary understanding, R&D, and social change.

7. 2009 Reflection – From ‘technofix’ to ‘behaviour change’ (as well)

Climate change demands radical innovation and change. So far, the emphasis on change has focused on technofixes and scientific target setting. Increasingly, the role of social innovation and behaviour change will offer faster, cheaper and potentially bigger change. And, like the need for a social platform, ‘behaviour change’ gives citizens a mechanism to participate in the agenda in their everyday lives; simple mechanisms that drive new ways of doing things or influence our choices in ways that make sense for us.

Here’s an example of some behaviour change work much cited in 2009: When a meat-based entrée is being served, and people are offered a vegetarian alternative, about 5 to 10 percent will request it. But what if the choices were reversed? Organizers of the 2009 Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference, which began today in Washington, tried an experiment: They made a vegetarian lunch the default option, and gave meat eaters the choice of opting out. Some 80 percent went for the veggies, not because there were lots of vegetarians in the crowd of about 700 people but because the choice was framed differently. We know that because, at a prior BECC conference, when meat was the default option, attendees chose the meat by an 83 percent to 17 percent margin.

As the marketing and communications industry searches for a powerful role amid the climate change agenda as well as weave its way out of the dilemma of consumerism, the place for ‘behaviour change’ work is becoming apparent. Brands, business and governments interventions as well as business model innovation are required to influence new social and consumption behaviours and beliefs. This is a creative challenge that will call on cross-discipline thinking, social media wizardry and social science leadership.

2010 Predictions and challenges

  • ‘Behaviour change’ topic widely discussed amid the political targets and scientific analysis.
  • Social innovation and climate change challenges seen as one.
  • Wholly new business models and service systems, which change the way we do things, in place of marketing communications.
  • Brands who engage consumers to make informed choices and make change a benefit versus a sacrifice.

8. 2009 Final Reflection – A no-pain-no-gain vintage year.

2010 Final Prediction – From pain, to building on the gain. And feeling pain again… and learning again.

Happy New Decade.

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Author Information

Tamara, a Sustainability Strategist and Innovation leader with 14 years professional experience, works with leaders to shape sustainability strategy, drive innovation and create long term sustainable value for businesses and society. She is a founding partner of Abundancy Partners, a strategic consultancy and Think-Do Tank. She was named one of the “35 Outstanding Businesswomen under the Age of 35” by World Business Magazine and INSEAD in 2007. Tamara is an adviser to Sustainable Brands International (SBi), OZOlab, Conscious Ventures and Alldaybuffet/Feast Social Innovation.

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