Open Letter to Young People on Donald Trump’s Election as President

Open Letter to Young People on Donald Trump’s Election as President

Read by the author, Dr Wayne Visser, on 12 November 2016


To the Next Generation of Leaders:

As Donald Trump prepares to take up office as US President, I (like so many others) am trying to make sense of it all. And whether you care about politics or not, this is a seismic event, which is shaking the foundations of the world and will affect you in one way or another.

I don’t know how you feel about it – amused, indifferent, shocked, disappointed, or outraged. But whatever your emotions, we all must now accept the disturbing fact that 60 million educated people have voted for a chauvinist, bigoted, racist, old white man to be the so-called ‘leader of the free world’.

Of course, the choice was not unambiguous – Hillary was far from a perfect alternative. I have heard commentators say that this was a vote by the ‘common people’ for change, fuelled by a deep mistrust of the corrupt political and business elites of Washington and Wall Street, which is not entirely unjustified.

Be that as it may, while the media and the public are still in an apoplectic frenzy of recrimination (or celebration, depending on their political perspective), I want to rise above the storm and reflect on what this might mean for you and your future, beyond the next four years.

My first plea to you is: Do Not Panic! Martin Luther King said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. And as someone who lived through South Africa’s triumph of democracy over a 40-year brutal, racist apartheid regime, I have seen the truth of these words.

Trump, for all his bluster, cannot turn the tide of history, nor change the momentum of decades of progress on human rights, peace and the environment. He can try to renege on the global climate deal or any number of other responsibilities, but the world (and you) will move forward, with or without him.

The future belongs to the youth and I am optimistic, because you have grown up empowered by global connectivity and with access to the best that science and knowledge has to offer. I am convinced that you will not allow your opinions to be dictated by narrow-mindedness and shallow sloganeering.

At the same time, I am encouraged that the nature of leadership has changed in the past few decades. The way you live your life – and the values you choose to express – is no longer determined by politicians. Today, the people creating a better world are young social entrepreneurs, activists and change-makers.

I am not saying that we can or should ignore calamitous leadership when we see it. On the contrary, as right wing forces grow – in reaction to increased uncertainty and fear in the world – we must be extra vigilant and stronger advocates for social justice and sustainability than ever before.

No doubt about it, the work of defending liberal values just got harder in the wake of Trump’s election. But as Lebanese poet and mystic Kahlil Gibran said: “Every dragon gives birth to a St George who slays it”. And we are the knights who will take up the challenge to fight for the better future you deserve.

My simple message to you is this: Do Not Be Disheartened. Sometimes it takes a crisis to remind us of what is really important in life. And in the darkest hours, that is precisely when the human spirit shines brightest. So do not be distracted by the ensuing circus in the White House. Stay focused on the big picture and the long view.

Build your future on strong ethical foundations – those values that many before you have fought and died for, and which you now cherish. Then, rest assured, you will triumph, no matter what political earthquakes, social upheavals, environmental catastrophes or moral storms may come your way.

You are not alone.



Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business

Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business

Article by Wayne Visser

Written for The Guardian.

Web 2.0 is not just about sharing photos on Facebook. It is a new mindset focused on collective intelligence and co-creation.

Web 2.0, or the ability to share and manipulate information online through user collaboration, has had a disruptive effect on business. Customers now expect to participate in the corporate world, and place a greater value on transparency in return.

This new environment, termed “wikinomics” by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, is based on four principles: openness, peering, sharing and acting globally. Here are the top 10 ways that web 2.0 technologies and digital cultures will impact on business, driving them towards more sustainable behaviour during the next decade.

1. Net value footprinting

Business has evolved over the past two decades from being highly opaque to gradually embracing more transparent practices. This has been a result of regulation, such as the Toxic Release Inventory in the US, which requires thousands of American companies to report their use of more than 650 toxic chemicals, and voluntary efforts including the Global Reporting Initiative’s sustainability guidelines.

But in a web 2.0 world, companies are expected to measure and disclose their impact across the entire lifecycle of their products. This process of quantifying business’s economic, social and environmental costs to society is sometimes called full-cost accounting. I call it “net value footprinting”. Good examples of this approach include Puma’s environmental profit and loss statement and the research carried out by Global Footprint Network.

2. Forensic impact analysis

While progressive companies are steadily improving their transparency, there will also be millions of irresponsible companies trying to fly under the radar of regulation and public scrutiny, running polluting operations that expolot cheap labour and abuse human rights.

These rogue businesses can now be caught and exposed through the emerging practice of forensic impact analysis. This will happen through a combination of traceability technology (which finds the electronic footprints left by all businesses in the supply chain), forensic substance analysis (which can identify the source of fibres, chemicals and other product components) and vigilant activists and consumers who capture malpractices using photographs, videos and audio recordings leaked via social media.

This approach has been pioneered in the food industry, where reputable businesses use barcodes to monitor and qualify every stage of their production process. Tracking techniques were also used to expose Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste along the Ivory Coast.

3. Crowdsourcing

Companies from the pre-digital age still believe that focus groups, public meetings, stakeholder panels and the occasional online or instore survey are adequate for taking the pulse of their customers and investors. At the same time, they are often distrustful of ideas suggested outside their organisations.

By contrast, web 2.0 savvy companies realise that the world has moved into an era of crowdsourcing. Future businesses will use filtered, or expert, crowds to monitor their reputation, get feedback on sustainable innovations and ask for help in solving difficult dilemmas. For example, Sony’s Open Planet Ideas and FutureScapes campaigns aimed to generate new sustainable technology ideas.

4. Disruptive partnerships

Companies have had a decade to get used to the idea of cross-sector partnerships, which have been heavily promoted through the United Nations and given a boost through inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals. But now business is expected to get into more challenging partnerships that disrupt the status quo. One example is Rio Tinto working with the World Conservation Union to reduce the impact on biodiversity.

These relationships also play out online. Greenpeace used social media very effectively to campaign against Nestle’s Kit Kat brand, after finding an Indonesian supplier was clearing tropical rainforest to grow palm oil. A year later the campaign group praised Nestle for its no deforestation commitment through its challenging partnership with TFT, a sustainable forestry NGO.

5. Open sourcing

One of the biggest changes in the society over the past 10 years has been the explosion of social media. This revolution goes beyond sharing our holiday photos on Facebook or micro-blogging the minutiae of our lives on Twitter. The more fundamental innovation is a shift in thinking and practice towards open sourcing, which at its heart is about the idea of co-creation.

This has influenced good business practices. After a decade under siege – with big pharma being accused of overpricing patented brands and blocking access to cheaper, generic and often life-saving drugs – GlaxoSmithKline committed to put chemical processes that it has intellectual property rights over that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a patent pool so they can be explored by other researchers. Similarly, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk decided last year to open up all its patents “for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

6. Wiki-ratings

A common feature of web 2.0 design is that it allows users to express an opinion on content, from the ubiquitous “like” button on Facebook to the fresh-red versus rotten-green tomato movie rating system on When it comes to business, wiki-based platforms allow the public to rate and comment in detail on the economic, governance, social and environmental performance of companies. One such platform is Wikirate, where I serve on the advisory board, which allows for real-time updating. Any ethical infringement – or a positive sustainability innovation – will be reflected almost immediately in the company’s rating. Other pioneering examples in the ratings space are GoodGuide, WeGreen, and Project Label.

7. Prototyping

In a web 2.0 world prototypes are launched early, as imperfect versions used solicit rapid user feedback in a process known as”beta-testing”. One way to bring about such rapid, open-source prototyping is through competitions.

The X-Prize describes itself as “bringing about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” by offering multi-million dollar prizes in return for innovative ideas to tackle global problems. Another example is Virgin’s $25 million Earth Challenge to help design a “commercially viable design which results in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of the earth’s climate system”.

8. Smart mobbing

Web 2.0 technologies have spawned a new type of protest activity called smart mobbing. This means using real-time media and sharing platforms, such as text messages and social media status updates, to rapidly organise a crowd.

Viral text messaging in the Philippines helped to oust former President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and the use of Twitter proved pivotal during the Arab spring uprisings in 2011. Smart mobs can also co-ordinate virtual activity, such as when the hacktivist group Anonymous encouraged its followers to launch cyber attacks against Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and other companies opposing Wikileaks in 2011.

Mission 4636, meanwhile, created a text-mapping emergency communications system after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In future, companies and governments will need to anticipate and respond to activist smart mobs as well as seed their own.

9. App farming

The war of the computing giants has turned into the battle of the apps, spawning a new generation of software applications focused on social and environmental solutions. Google Play lists more than 400 sustainability-related apps. The most popular is BlaBlaCar, which connects drivers with empty seats with people looking for a ride, allowing users to search the biggest European car-sharing community.

Common tools in this genre include ethical shopping guides, carbon footprint calculators and educational games. Businesses of the future will be judged on whether they can seed and grow farms of apps that provide solutions to the world’s most serious challenges.

10. Plug and play

Today’s smart technology detects its operating environment, installs whatever software is needed and begins operating without any action by the user. Rather than having to manually unplug or switch off household electrical devices to save energy, plug-and-play technology for the home automatically detects all idle devices and disables them remotely. Similar approaches apply to optimal energy-efficient heating and cooling of buildings, and low-carbon driving, which automatically chooses acceleration and cruise speeds that reduce emissions.

In future automatic product filters will match our preferences for fairtrade, organic, beauty without cruelty, or other ethical products. When shopping online, we will only see those items that match our preferences. In store, we will be alerted to products that meet our standards by automatically scanning barcodes through mobile devices.

The message is clear for business. Web 2.0 is not just about everybody being continuously online. Rather, it is a new business mindset that uses collective intelligence and co-creation to find solutions to our global challenges, and uses technology to achieve speed and scale in spreading innovation to the parts of the world with the most urgent unmet needs.


[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] Kaleidoscope Futures (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2015) Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business. The Guardian, 22 January 2015.

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Visions of the Future

Visions of the Future:

CSR, sustainable business and capitalism in 2020

A blog by Wayne Visser

Over the last 12 weeks, I have shared examples from around the world of an approach to CSR (by which I mean Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility) in which companies seek to identify and tackle the root causes of our present unsustainability and irresponsibility, typically through innovating business models, revolutionising their processes, products and services and lobbying for progressive national and international policies.

 Forecasts for 2020

Based on this vision – and the evolution of sustainable business over the past 20 years – I have made ten forecasts for 2020. They are meant as a basis for discussion and action, rather than an attempt at predictive certainly. Hence, I am inviting you to join a dialogue about the future. Here is my opening gambit:

Forecast 1 – By 2020, we will see most large, international companies having moved through the first four types or stages of CSR (defensive, charitable, promotional and strategic) and practising, to varying degrees, transformative CSR, or CSR 2.0.

Forecast 2 – By 2020, reliance on sustainable business codes, standards and guidelines such as the UN Global Compact, ISO 14001and SA 8000, will be seen as a necessary but insufficient way to practise CSR. Instead, companies will be judged on how innovative they are in using their products and processes to tackle social and environmental problems.

Forecast 3 – By 2020, self-selecting ‘ethical consumers’ will become less relevant as a force for change. Companies—strongly encouraged by government policies and incentives—will scale up their choice-editing and cease offering ‘less ethical’ product ranges, thus allowing guilt-free shopping.

Forecast 4 – By 2020, cross-sector partnerships will be at the heart of all CSR approaches. These will increasingly be defined by business bringing its core competencies and skills (rather than just its financial resources) to the party.

Forecast 5 – By 2020, companies practising sustainable business will be expected to comply with global best-practice principles, such as those in the UN Global Compact or the Ruggie Human Rights Framework, but simultaneously demonstrate sensitivity to local issues and priorities.

Forecast 6 – By 2020, progressive companies will be required to demonstrate full life-cycle management of their products, from cradle to cradle. We will see most large companies committing to the goal of zero-waste, carbon-neutral and water-neutral production, with mandated take-back schemes for most products.

Forecast 7 – By 2020, some form of Generally Accepted Sustainability Practices (GASP) will be agreed, much like the Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP), including consensus principles, methods, approaches and rules for measuring and disclosing sustainable business. Furthermore, a set of credible CSR rating agencies will have emerged.

Forecast 8 – By 2020, many of today’s sustainable business practices will be mandatory requirements. However, CSR will remain a voluntary practice – an innovation and differentiation frontier – for those companies that are either willing and able, or pushed and prodded through non-governmental means, to go ahead of the legislation to improve quality of life around the world.

Forecast 9 – By 2020, corporate transparency will take the form of publicly available sets of mandatory disclosed social, environmental and governance data—available down to a product life-cycle impact level—as well as Web 2.0 collaborative sustainable business feedback platforms, WikiLeaks-type whistle-blowing sites and product-rating applications.

Forecast 10 – By 2020, CSR will have diversified back into its specialist disciplines and functions, leaving little or no sustainable business departments behind, yet having more specialists in particular areas (climate, biodiversity, human rights, community involvement, etc.), and more employees with knowledge of how to integrate CSR issues into their functional areas (HR, marketing, finance, etc.).

Transforming capitalism

These forecasts all suggest a transformational agenda for sustainable business, or CSR. I call this CSR 2.0, but the labels do not matter; the substance of the change matters. However, underlying these trends is an even more potent shift, which is an evolution from our winner-takes-all shareholder-driven model of capitalism to what we might call Sustainable and Responsible Capitalism, or Purpose-Inspired Capitalism.

For me, this means testing all economic activity against five principles:

  1. Productive investment – Ensuring that money is channelled towards productive investments and not into speculative trading in the casino economy, as the Co-operative Bank has demonstrated successfully.
  2. Long termism – Understanding that real wealth is created by taking a long-term perspective, including the needs of future generations, as Al Gore’s Generation Investment and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway practice.
  3. Transparency – Embracing transparency in revenues and social and environmental impacts, in line with the Global Reporting Initiative, International Integrated Reporting Council, Carbon Disclosure Project and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
  4. Full cost accounting – Internalising social and environmental costs (externalities), through taxes (e.g. on carbon and pollution) and social and environmental profit & loss accounts, such as Puma is pioneering.
  5. Social inclusion – enacting Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s concept of creating shared value, and Stuart Hart and C.K. Prahalad’s model of serving the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) markets, as demonstrated by the BOP 2.0 Protocol.

We live in exciting times – a true period of bifurcation. We live on the cusp of the post-industrial revolution, and for the first time, we can finally glimpse what a new model of sustainable business and purpose-inspired capitalism could look like.

But as with so many things in life, the quest for a sustainable future is like a wheelbarrow. The only way we will make progress is if we pick it up and push forward. And the only way we will motivate people to join us in this effort is if they believe in what we are building.

That means having a compelling vision of the future, what I call a 5-S vision of “future fitness” in which our products, organisations, communities, cities or countries are Safe, Smart, Shared, Sustainable and Satisfying. What that means and how we get there is another quest, another book and another set of stories.

For now, we have come to end of this “Searching for Sustainable Business” series of articles, which were all extracted, summarised and adapted from my book, The Quest for Sustainable Business. I hope that they have given you a glimpse into some of the insights from my own journey to more than 65 countries over the past 20 years – and that you will be inspired to continue on your own quest.


[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Visions of the Future: CSR, sustainable business and capitalism in 2020 (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2013) Visions of the Future: CSR, sustainable business and capitalism in 2020. Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 10 September 2013.

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CSR 2.0: Part 5 (Video)

Extract from a presentation by Dr Wayne Visser at the Korea Social Responsibility Institute (KOSRI) 2012 conference in Seoul.

CSR 2.0: The Future of CSR — Part 5 (What is CSR 2.0?)