Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business
Article by Wayne Visser
After the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, we should take care not to mistake this single event for the greater symphony of change that it heralds. Like fleas on an elephant, we need to jump back and see the greater whole – the challenge of creating a sustainable world. However you want to define it, in the end, it comes down to our ability to endure. Those that understand how social and environmental drivers will be shaping the landscape over the coming decades will be better placed to survive. This article ventures ten predictions about how the future will be different.
In the future, the number of banned substances will increase exponentially
Many chemicals and metals (especially persistent compounds) that are commonly used today, and still more that have yet to be created, will be linked to serious human health impacts (birth defects, cancers, immune deficiencies) and ecosystem destruction (habitat decline, mutant species, collapsing populations). The speed of this trend is being driven by the rate at which synthetic chemical compounds are being created and the rapid build up of persistent substances in the ecosystem, versus the tolerance thresholds of our immune systems and the environment. Sustainable companies will apply the precautionary principle and actively seek substitutes for hazardous or persistent compounds.
In the future, forensic sustainability will emerge as a new professional discipline
There will be groups of professionals, with a combination of legal, investigative, sociological, eco-toxicological and medical expertise, which will track down companies responsible for illegal, indiscriminate social and environmental violations. Using leading-edge forensic techniques, they will trace evidence from the crime scene (an illegal waste dump, contaminated land, a toxic spill, an afflicted community, a sick set of customers) back to the companies that can be in any way linked to the substance, process or product that caused the damage. Damage claims and sustainability insurance will grow exponentially. Sustainable companies will apply extensive internal and external investigative, auditing and assurance techniques to avoid being an unknowing accomplice to sustainability violations.
In the future, governments and civil organisations will maintain and publicise corporate grey-lists
Any company that consistently violates sustainability principles (environmental integrity, community health, human rights, health and safety) will be “greylisted” by governments, multilateral agencies and civil organisations. Some governments will forbid the greylisted companies from operating in their countries. Activists will use the greylists to mount boycotts. Financial analysts and shareholders will use the greylists to inform their choice of investments. Sustainable companies will actively embrace a transparent, triple bottom line approach to their strategies and operations in order to avoid future greylisting.
In the future, companies will employ sophisticated, real-time corporate stakeholder monitoring
Like professional athletes that monitor every aspect of their bodies’ performance, companies will be expected to have their finger on the pulse of each of their sets of stakeholders. Using a combination of new technologies and new industrial psychology techniques, companies will receive almost constant electronic feedback on the health, well being and level of satisfaction their stakeholders …
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Cite this article
Visser, W. (2002) Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business. Ethical Corporation, 6 September.