From the price of growth to the prize of sustainability

When it comes to tackling serious global challenges, from climate change to poverty, I’ve always sided with the optimists. Don’t get me wrong - it’s important to take an unflinching look at the facts and to develop a clear idea just how dramatic things are. And as I’ve learned many times over, frustration can be an enormous driver of disruptive change, especially in business. But this only works if you are good at spotting the opportunity sitting right at the centre of a problem.

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That’s exactly what the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, a group of global leaders from business and civil society launched last year, has done. Looking at the Global Goals, a daunting set of 17 development objectives agreed on by the world’s governments in 2015, the Commission has quantified just how big the prize could be if business and governments were to join forces and seize the enormous economic opportunity that lies behind climate action, clean and sustainable energy, or new health solutions – to name just a few.

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The results of the Commission’s research, published today in a new report titled Better Business, Better World are stunning. For starters, the research identifies 60 sustainable and inclusive market hotspots in just four key areas: energy; cities; food and agriculture; health and wellbeing – that could create at least US$12 trillion in business value by 2030; which is equivalent to 10 per cent of forecast global GDP. Better yet, such growth could also generate up to 380 million jobs by 2030, most of them in developing countries. The report goes on to highlight specific opportunities – from building more sustainable cities to reducing food waste or improving the yield of smallholder farmers. If you ask me, seizing those is an entrepreneur’s dream and an investor’s bonanza.

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But the Commissioners also leave no doubt that our current economic model is fundamentally flawed. Whilst the world has enjoyed decades of unprecedented growth and development, the environmental and social costs of that growth have been enormous. The economic divide is widening, and we are pushing well beyond the boundaries of our planet’s capacity to restore and regenerate its fragile ecosystems. This is a finding echoed by the B Team, whose leaders include many members of the Commission, who have pointed out that we need to create entirely new incentive structures to turn the tide and usher in an era of sustainable growth that benefits people and the planet.

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Of course, none of this is going to happen overnight. Meeting the Global Goals alone will require trillion-dollar annual investments and a fundamental realignment of our investment priorities to integrate environmental, social and governance considerations into decision-making, fight short-termism and finally put a prize on externalities. But I’m thrilled to see tangible proof that greater sustainability is not only the right thing to do, but an opportunity impossible to miss. 

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Head over to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission to download the full report

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