Excitingly we enter a new decade. You know, one of those times that gets some sort of astute adjective attached to it. The last time the twenties occurred, it was celebrated, with hedonistic wisdom, as the ‘roaring twenties’. An age of rapid industrial and economic growth. The French described it as ‘Années folles’, the ‘crazy years’, also referring to the growth of cultural and social affluence. It was a period, after the Great War, when people could be free to prosper. A century on and, with the sharpness and clarity of vision that the term and hopefully year 2020 represents, our new decade surely has to be the time our planet prospers – to be celebrated as the ‘visionary twenties’.
In 2019 the concerns for our planet were truly consolidated and strengthened through the term of that decade – climate crisis or emergency. Although some tweets may differ, there can’t be many folks who haven’t heard of this apocalyptic phrase, nor can there be many who haven’t heard of campaigners and activists such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, or even the failings of certain world leaders and climate crisis deniers. Even if the names are not too familiar with some, then surely everyone knows that this entire crisis that the planet faces has been in the headlines almost every week since 2019 surfaced. From floods in the UK to drought and horrific fires in Australia, from biodiversity on the brink of extinction to the emergence of climate refugees, the news media is building and reinforcing our knowledge and mindfulness of what is happening. Our vision has been focussed to awareness. But that is not enough. In this new decade we need our focus to be realigned to meaningful actions. I don’t just mean those of campaigning and protesting, we need actual real and credible actions that equal change. But how do we move from awareness to engaging a revolution in our lives?
Many people are concerned about our planet, on the other hand they are also concerned about what change means to them, their families and their lives. This is also true of corporations. Change brings about fear and so sustainability goals have to be realistic. We can all make changes, we can all make certain changes every day, but the reality is the major changes we need will not be overnight. They will be incremental rather than abrupt. Engaging the revolution has to build empathy for the cause, not anger towards it. And, although I am not arguing against those who want instant major change, I am being realistic to say we need to build actions based on what is the most likely timescale. We have a decade.
In this decade people have to be a part of the revolution; we need a clear vision to not only find the right path but also to find the right visionary leaders to navigate us on this path. That is a tough ask. There are so many people telling us what right is, and even more telling us what wrong is. Who is the right leader? How can we move forward? How do we do this together? So many questions… it feels like there is a sort of sustainability fog constantly around us.
The reality is that I think we often walk on the right path, however, as we progress on our journey, we think that our fellow walkers are not always similar to ourselves, or we are walking too slowly and keep getting distracted and divert to the wrong path, or we believe that however convincing we make the argument, no-one in power appears to act in a meaningful way. The same old problems keep occurring, and they mostly relate back to the fact that we just can’t move away from GDP and the type of capitalism that destroys. There is a really good example of this: as we look to reduce emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles, we seem to have found a good solution in the use of electric, battery powered vehicles. They will not only rid us of the ‘demonised’ ICE vehicles but hopefully they can be charged more and more from renewables. A win-win solution. However, as we progress down this ‘right path’ we seem to be wandering off it yet again, by creating more negative impacts on our planet and its people. Just before Christmas I read, on BBC News, of the social and environmental impacts in Africa of cobalt mining (a vital commodity in battery production). Also, earlier in the year I had also read in African Business about the negative environmental impacts of mining ‘in demand’ commodities like lithium (also needed in electric cars). We seem to spiral from one negative to yet another. Is this to be expected of change or are we still getting it wrong? Ultimately, this is not the type of change we need. It is not having 20 20 vision; it is having a blurred vision.
This blurred vision often leads to another reason we stray from the right path – blame. And, in many ways, we end up strengthening blame rather than reinforcing actual change and ultimately consensus. Blame ends up at the doors of anyone, whether corporations, governments or campaigners. In my experience, in both business and life, the majority of CEO’s, activists and politicians are not so different to all of us: not being heathens looking to destroy our planet or our lives – yet we seem adamant on strengthening blame as a tool to reach sustainability.
If we are truly going to find the right path and stay on it, then we also have to change our thinking as well as our actions. We all have to be visionaries and we all have to engage the 20 20 sharpness and clarity. We must use this decade to move forward by building on the successes of the past. We have to accept that resilient business will be a vehicle to help us achieve this and we have to ensure our vision for the next decade does allow it to roar; this time though, for both the planet as well as its people.