The five fold path to sustainability
We all know that the climate crisis is here. And we all know that sustainability has to be our future. But what does that look like for you? Here's a framework for building it into your decisions.
The climate crisis is here. Sustainability is the new digital. We need to act. We need a sustainability framework to allow us to act with focus and confidence.
But what does that look like?
The scale of the challenge in front of us is so great that it’s going to require all of us to get involved. Many of the solutions will be top-down: hopefully, COP 27 — the UN Climate Change Summit — will enable those this autumn.
However, we’ll also need to do this bottom-up. As individuals, and as companies, we all have a role in reshaping the narrative about how we live and how we consume in a more sustainable way.
Again, you might ask: ”But what does that look like?”
The Sustainability Framework
Here’s our framework for taking the idea of sustainability and integrating it into your business in a meaningful way. There a five “p”s that are the path to sustainability in what you do:
Let’s examine each of them in turn:
Any sustainability solution that doesn’t work for people, won’t work. Again, calling back to our co-host David Mattin’s line: it’s a new world, but we’re the same old humans. We still want status, pleasure, the chance to enjoy ourselves. A “hair shirt” approach to solving the climate crisis is unlikely to work: Martin’s written before about the limits of degrowth as a solution.
In short, we need to build a sustainable future for real people, not idealised ones.
The other side of the people equation, of course, is hiring the really good ones. And a whole bunch of the old hiring assumptions just went out of the window. With remote working now proven to work for many companies, and most embracing a hybrid model of some description, the balance of power on hiring has shifted significantly.
For the last few years, we’ve been tracking company purpose as a key driver for younger generations. With knowledge workers in particular freed from geographical constraints, companies that have a compelling sustainability story to tell will have a competitive edge in the fight for talent.
Just as product design — or, at least, good product design — has had an element of digital consideration for the past decade, now the same must be true of sustainability. How does your product or service help address the climate crisis? If it doesn’t, can it be made to? If not — is the potential reputation damage worth the rewards?
This equation is changing very fast. Having products that gave thought to sustainability used to be a marketing advantage. It’s rapidly transitioning to a necessity, and that will leave products without a sustainability story at a marketing disadvantage.
(As an aside, those products, and brands that have led the way on this, especially boutique products, will have to find new ways of selling themselves, as the big products move into the niche they once had to themselves…)
Sustainability can’t afford to be an add-on to your product design process. It needs to be at the very heart of it from the start. The days of the disposable, quickly replaced product need to end. Products need to be designed to last, to be repaired, and thus, some old assumptions about revenue change: do you make more money from repairs or other services? Does your product become a long-lived gateway to your other services?
The way we live has a profound impact on the planet. The building we chose to live in, its relationship with where we want to work, shop and play, are all tied into a wider story. It’s one that encompasses travel, from infrastructure planning to micro-mobility. It impacts urban design and architecture. Likewise, it impacts how we shape our businesses and our business technology.
The message after the pandemic is clear: people prefer not to come back to the office full time. That change in movement patterns will have profound economic changes which will play out over years, not months. And with any such shift comes opportunity. There’s an opportunity for us to reshape our urban infrastructure along a more sustainable line, and for us to build the products and services that will define that shift.
Of course, any sustainability has to be about the planet. It’s our home — and likely our only home for centuries to come. And so, we need to look after it better. That’s the most simplistic read of the planet’s role in sustainability.
But there’s another.
We live in complex, inter-connected worlds of supply chains, communications, relationships, and infrastructure. Solving problems at a planet-scale is going to require addressing complex global-scale systems. This is an era of complexity and of systems thinking. No man is an island, but even an island can be swamped by rising tides caused by climate change.
A global problem requires global solutions. Exponential problems require exponential solutions. Digital has connected the globe. It’s time to harness that power in service of an urgent goal.
While it might feel like the Covid-19 pandemic has been the defining moment of our time, history will judge us less by how we handled a pandemic and more about how we handled the climate crisis.
It’s clear that the decision we make now will impact the lives of generations to come. Will they thank us, or will they curse us? That’s up to us. Yes, many of the decisions will be taken at a governmental level. But we all have the chance to help shape that future. The very nature of the electoral cycle means that many politicians find it hard to think more than five years ahead. But we have to change that — both in them and in ourselves.
What has our work left for the future? How will posterity view our products? As part of a movement that changed the world, or as amusing failures? Or worse, as one of the major missteps that humanity took along the way? What form of cities are we gifting to our children and grandchildren? What way of life are we showing them, by the decisions we make now?
A sustainability framework is about a better present
True sustainability isn’t truly about the future. It’s about redefining the present so that it supports better futures for all.
How do you want to be remembered?