Today living in the century of regeneration means valuing Ecosystem Function higher than material things is the paradigm shift that determines whether we understand the meaning of our lives and survive or whether we remain ignorant and selfish and destroy our own habitat trying to gain more wealth or more power.
Sustainability: short-term gains will destroy us all
If humans are to survive and thrive, organizations must learn to become regenerative–a shift that will be nothing short of a rebirth for many, argues Carlos Álvarez Pereira of the Club of Rome. Here he offers advice on how to begin the transformation.
For more than three decades, governments, companies, institutions, and other organizations of all sizes and hues have talked about sustainability. Many have adopted targets based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. A growing number have pledged ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner.
I am not alone in saying that none of this is enough to meet the challenges that confront us. If we wait for most organizations to recognize that we are on the wrong path, major emergencies will continue piling up and produce huge suffering, which the most vulnerable people are already enduring.
If organizations around the world are serious about creating equitable well-being and restoring the health of the biosphere, they need to become regenerative. That means going much deeper and further. It means reconnecting with humanity. And, of course, it means reconnecting with nature.
Becoming regenerative involves replacing the obsession with short-term market returns by the creation of long-term value for all parties, human and non-human. Companies have a pivotal role to play in this transformation. For most, it will require nothing short of their complete rebirth.
In both Limits and Beyond, and Earth for All – A Survival Guide for Humanity, the Club of Rome proposes antidotes to the current malaise and suggests pathways to a better future. Building on the foundations of the Club’s seminal 1972 work The Limits to Growth, which showed how the combined exhaustion of natural resources and massive pollution were pushing humanity towards a cliff edge, Earth for All demonstrates that options exist to save us from self-destruction and create the conditions of decent lives for all in a healthy planet. Limits and Beyond shows that this requires a shift in the way we think and feel, and hence a total transformation of today’s approach to business.
To understand why, it’s important to undertake a reality check of corporate sustainability efforts to date. ESG might sound good in principle, but all too often it ends up being a box-ticking exercise – a “nice to have” rather than a company-defining strategy.
More than a box ticking exercise
One problem is that much of companies’ sustainability efforts have gone in the direction of technicalities and particularly designing metrics. While not entirely useless, this focus on metrics has turned the sustainability imperative into yet another compliance issue. It is something that companies now have to do, not something they have established as a core strategy and an existential purpose.
A second problem is that when sustainability issues get translated into rigid rules and standards instead of nurturing a cultural shift, they become a constraining framework, easily leading companies to continue ticking boxes and remaining compliant for the sake of the tax authorities as well as their shareholders. All of this creates an additional layer of bureaucracy. And if bureaucracy is what’s driving the business, we are all in deep trouble.
“Wars grind on. The climate crisis burns on. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty rage on. The gulf between the haves and have-nots is cleaving societies, countries, and our wider world. Epic geopolitical divisions are undermining global solidarity and trust. This path is a dead end. We need a course correction”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres in an address to the General Assembly
Half a century on since The Limits to Growth, humanity is still stumbling down the same path while the house burns. Global warming has accelerated to more than 0.3°C per decade, raising the specter that we will probably overshoot the 1.5°C warming limit that the world agreed to in Paris. Meanwhile, progress on the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, now just seven years away from its deadline, remains woefully adrift.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly this month: “Wars grind on. The climate crisis burns on. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty rage on. The gulf between the haves and have-nots is cleaving societies, countries, and our wider world. Epic geopolitical divisions are undermining global solidarity and trust. This path is a dead end. We need a course correction”
Regenerative organizations offer that course correction. But what is it? And how do companies begin the transformation?
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