To paraphrase Donne, no business is an island. None of us, regardless of size or industry, operates in a vacuum. All of us are part of a marketplace that includes consumers, suppliers and competitors. A society that includes citizens, NGOs, regulators and policymakers. And a planet with natural capital that provides vital ecosystem services and a climate balance that has so far allowed us to run our businesses with stable temperature cycles and manageable weather disruptions.
That is the basis for the Context building block of Homera's Holistic Value Chain (HVC) sustainability toolkit.
Consider this: the very definition of sustainability is to grow and be profitable as a business in a way that secures the long-term health of society and the environment. The default approach by business that has emanated from this understanding is to be responsible and do no harm, which would have you focus solely inwards, on the impact of your products and operations, and if you have a budget and are so disposed, a measure of community or charitable work.
But wait. There is so much more to it than that. The fact is, and it is very much a fact, that no business can succeed if it can't compete in the marketplace, if society fails, or if the climate balance goes out of whack. Given today's unprecedented risks and complexities across all three fronts, the only way to enhance your chances of not just surviving, but thriving, is to become engaged across all three fronts in ways that reach beyond your own products and operations.
That's what HVC Context is all about, to help you deal fully with market change, social change, and climate change, not just to keep up, but to stay ahead and indeed aspire to become one of the players that defines what's next.
An astonishing 50% of the companies in the S&P 500 market index today were not there as recently as 2000. Put more bluntly, half the companies are gone. In less than 20 years! The rotation has become insane, driven mainly by a pace of technological change that is still defying "normal".
Digital tools now allow you to be far more efficient, to reach more customers more quickly and build deeper relationships than ever before, to motivate and manage your employees better, to break into foreign markets far faster and more affordably, and so much more. Don't stay ahead of the latest, and you'll be "swiped right" by some competitor.
When you bring that to sustainability, you discover a world of opportunities for you to be one of those competitors. The secret? Not to think in terms of competition at all, but rather collaboration. There are countless multi-stakeholder initiatives out there defining the future sustainable marketplace. Join. Locally. Globally. Or launch a new one. Become a part. Become a leader. You can do it remotely to minimize travel costs, if you prefer. But do it. Change the paradigm in your mind of what it means to "compete" in today's new normal.
In Latin America, fewer than half of students at the end of elementary school attain minimum proficiency levels in mathematics. Other skills are also suffering there and elsewhere. Think of the lost opportunities for social prosperity in having so much talent remain unfulfilled. And that's for kids born to begin with. The global average for child mortality remains high at 43 deaths for every 1,000 births. The U.S. (6.5 out of 1,000) ranks an embarrassing 32nd among the world's 35 most developed countries.
Today, improvements in social change at the local and global levels are covered most effectively and collaboratively by the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. At Homera, we use the 17 as the basis for HVC Context.
Depending on your sustainability focus as a business, you may become engaged in progress on poverty (SDG 1), hunger (2), health (3), education (4), gender and income equality (5 & 10), decent work (8), or peace and justice (16). One collaborative way to go is to join, if you haven't already, your country's Global Compact Network, or the UN arm that promotes the SDGs as a business-opportunity framework, along with ten responsibility Principles. Your country or city may have other similar business groups, or sustainability committees of trade associations, or a Green Chamber of Commerce. There are so many ways to contribute and platforms to join. Whatever works for you.
Ditto for climate change. It is now a hard, peer-reviewed scientific fact that global temperatures will surpass the feared 1.5 degree Celsius threshold rise in the 2030s and 2C shortly after that (rise, that is, above the millennial average). We stand somewhere between 1.1C and 1.2C today.
The reason this is feared and an entire UN global negotiation architecture exists to address it, is because hotter temperatures past that point will trigger a decades-long string of natural disasters and extreme weather events sure to disrupt the operations of your business and of every business on the planet. Helping you prepare for and deal with that disruption is what HVC Resilience is for (see our November 2nd post). HVC Context is where you join others at a broader societal level on both resilience and mitigation, the latter to take preventive measures, which have become critical, not to escape 1.5C and 2C, since that is now unavoidable, but to control the temperature rise moving forward.
The SDG framework is fundamental here, as well: water (6), clean energy (7), infrastructure (9), cities & communities (11), consumption & production (12), commitments & negotiations (13), oceans (14), plus land use, forests and biodiversity (15). By the way, Goal 9 also includes everything covered above under Market Change!
If you're keeping track, one SDG remains unmentioned: Goal 17, that of strengthening partnerships toward sustainable development, which in fact applies to the process of achieving the first 16 goals. We wanted to close with #17 because the message simply cannot be overstated: the external context surrounding, indeed beyond, your company's internal sustainability agenda is inherently collaborative. This you cannot do alone.
For most of you, especially if you're small or midsize and far more accustomed to minding your own business, that probably takes you into unfamiliar territory. If you've had experience with a local chamber of commerce or trade association, you may feel more comfortable and know that competition and collaboration are actually complementary, certainly not in contradiction.
Because your business, whether tiny or huge, literally depends on managing these risks, complexities and opportunities, you should consider dedicating a portion of your time to the process. If you have someone senior level in-house who would be good at this, delegate the function, or outsource it. But do not proceed without engaging.
Said another way, always keep John Donne in mind.