Plenty of companies have taken steps toward becoming more sustainable, but none has turned that progress into truly transformational change.
As anyone who’s ever used a compass knows, mistaking “magnetic north” for “true north” can put you alarmingly off course, very quickly.
Yet for many companies striving to become more sustainable, navigating via magnetic north—making incremental moves toward cleaner, greener, more socially responsible business—seems to be the default setting for their journey. That may well be better than business as usual. But it’s by no means enough.
Indeed, there’s a yawning gap between what science is telling us we need to do to ensure sustainability for people, planet and profits—an orientation we call True North—and what most companies consider to be progress. In fact, by almost every objective measure of sustainability, most industries and companies are already headed in the wrong direction. Perhaps even more worrisome, many are not even aware of the True North orientation and, equally important, that there is money to be made by embedding this approach to sustainability in their business model.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. With one-fifth more carbon in the atmosphere than there was in 2000 and global emissions still rising, year on year, the United Nations Environment Programme warns of catastrophic consequences for the world. Scientists believe that could include floods, droughts and famine. And the fallout from these increasingly frequent environmental disasters—measured in terms of food supply and poverty—can only further destabilize the global economy.
The World Wildlife Federation’s Living Planet Index shows that global biodiversity declined by 28 percent between 1970 and 2008; the decline rises to 61 percent in the tropical regions that house our most species-rich habitats. Moreover, in a globalized economy, sustainability is as much about sustainable social and economic development as it is about the environment. Yet poverty and inequality persist, and are even worsening.