Have you transformed your company yet?
“Change had not died out. It was only Change that had changed. The New was coming into fashion and beyond the common understanding of the world.”
H. G. Wells
As sustainability practitioners, we often have to juggle two sometimes conflicting ambitions. Firstly, we need to stimulate sustainable change based upon where we are now, and secondly, we need to play a part in imagining and creating more fundamentally sustainable approaches.
Over the past few years there has been a significant focus on the idea of transformational change. This is based upon a judgement that incremental change is neither ambitious nor fast enough to cope with the scale of the sustainability challenges that we all face.
Although the idea of transformation definitely appeals, I have a practical problem with the agenda. While it may suit companies that revel in disruptive change, other companies with more conventional business models find that the idea of ‘transformation’ simply feels impossible. It is a bit like telling a life-partner or friend that they should ‘transform’ themselves. It’s an easy request to make of a caterpillar but not of a human, we are capable of change, but we are also essentially always ourselves (as of course is also a caterpillar/chrysalis/butterfly).
The dichotomy between incremental and transformative change is also not particularly clear. It is possible for a company to set itself on a pathway of incremental performance improvement that soon adds up to a transformational change. For instance, a commitment of 10% year on year carbon reduction adds up to a 50% net reduction in 5 years…. Is this incremental or transformational change…or simply both?
Transformational journey, destination or both?
Incrementalism and transformation are often seen as divergent paths yet they may actually be the long and short term outcomes of the same journey. The difference is the intended destination – if the destination for a sustainability strategy (for example) is transformative for a company’s product offering, business model and resource relationships, then incremental steps towards that goal are just small bites of a big ambition.
There are a huge number of examples of serious, significant change in both the approach and role of business in tackling sustainability challenges.
- Multi stakeholder commodity chain sustainability approaches which seek to understand and respond to the strategic threats faced by particular raw materials.
- Long term sustainability ambition rooted in a clear sighted analysis of sustainability context and global mega-trends which articulate a pathway of radical change (such as WBCSD’s Vision 2050 and our client Elopak’s FutureProof 2020 Strategy).
- Science based carbon targets and the growing acknowledgement that global limits and global targets such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals should frame company ambition in sustainability.
- Fundamental reconceptualisations of the very basis of production systems such as the circular economy, industrial ecology and Cradle-to-Cradle.
- Innovation at the bleeding edge of science, technology and imagination, based partly upon the direct application of nature’s technology (biomimicry), but also focused upon the creation of technologies, some of which exist and some of which might.
Seeding fertile ground
The seeds of sustainability actually lie all around us, the task we face is finding the means to create the fertile ground which they require to thrive.
We believe that not only is a sustainable future conceivable, but that it is also possible to adapt and use a number of approaches that are currently part of conventional business practice.
Together with other big ideas for a sustainable future, these approaches are at the heart of our Towards 9 Billion book series, designed to provide inspiration, hope and practical ideas for everyone working to build a sustainable future.
There are 5 in the series and each is available as an eBook or a hardcopy version from Amazon.
You can also access free excerpts of each book directly from us by going to www.terrafiniti.com/towards-9-billion-books
This blog piece was first published, in a mildly different form, by Edie on 4/08/16.
I help busy people in ambitious companies explore their sustainable future. While I don't know if we're a good fit for your business, why not talk to our sustainability consultants so we can learn more about your unique challenges?Talk to our sustainability consultants