The Future of Sustainability

We need new ways of thinking and being to become a more sustainable society. The new paradigms we need in order to live sustainably require us to evolve new language for sharing ideas and innovations to become future ready. Sustainability means transformation, both environmental and social. Sustainability is a journey towards a future which is more equitable, inclusive, and just. One of my favorite definitions of sustainability comes from Gro Harlem Brundtland who defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs.”  This week, global thought leaders discussed the future of sustainability. I was honored to be part of this conversation at the Inspired: Are you Future Ready? Conference and to share it broadly.

Some concepts and models that can bring us to a more sustainable future include:

Generative vs Extractive           

For most of history, business has focused on an extractive business model, extracting resources and raw materials, while depleting the earth. To become more sustainable we need generative business models that create social good alongside financial returns.  In recent years, we have seen trail-blazing companies develop a resource-positive approach, looking at ways to generate their own renewable energy and even create a surplus of resources and energy.   


Charles Darwin wrote that in order to survive, organisms must adapt to a changing environment, with the most adaptive organisms, the most likely to survive. The concept applies to companies and communities as well. We must adapt to a changing climate and respond to emergent trends. According to the United Nations, adaptation refers to “adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.”

The Global Commission on Adaptation, which is chaired by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, Bill Gates, and Kristalina Georgieva (of the World Bank) recommends seven areas of focus, which are relevant to building resilient and sustainable solutions for companies and communities:

  1. Locally-led adaptation
  2. Urban resilience
  3. Water resource management
  4. Shock-responsible social safety nets
  5. Food security
  6. Nature based solutions, such as planting mangroves to prevent erosion
  7. Disaster prevention

Climate change is a strategic issue for companies, and forward-thinking boards and managers must consider the following ways in which business can adapt to a changing climate:

  • Products: The market will require new types of products as climate changes. Two key examples include new ways to purify water and micro-insurance to protect small-scale farmers
  • Supply chains: Companies can help their suppliers plant more resilient seeds and crops to withstand changes to local climate, such as drought or heavy rains
  • Risk: Companies must conduct risk assessments to see how their operations, supply chains, and properties will be impacted by a changing climate.  

Is your company adapting to a changing world?