Expanding on my thoughts and key learnings thus far





Competing companies and customers can serve as whistleblowers to pressure other companies’ shift from short-term to long-term scope in CSR operations. David Howson of COTY honestly elaborated on this matter in the case of L’Oréal being an innovative, dedicated leader in sustainability efforts in the beauty industry which forced competing companies to follow through and embrace a corporate-led sustainability initiative. This form of checks and balances can only effectively work when transparency exists across the depth of every firm’s supply chain.

However, for systemic change to truly occur, companies must set more realistic goals. For example, Starbucks set an aggressive goal to reduce its environmental impact by 2015 when it pledged in 2010 to ensure that 100% of its cups would be reusable or recyclable but none of its goals were met as outlined by Aaron Smith’s article “Starbucks offers $10 million for ideas on a better cup.” Similarly, Nespresso extensively outlined its goals but did not thoroughly discuss the methodology through which it will accomplish its goals. Nespresso were in particular less transparent than Starbucks about their shortfalls during my class’s factory visit. For instance, they highlighted their accomplishments but did not display data on the percentage of capsules sold actually being recycled in the United States until pressed only to find out that it’s a not so impressive 25%.

Additionally, the Paris Agreement’s unrealistic goal to limit global warming to at least under 2 degrees Celsius — and to 1.5 degrees if possible — in order to mitigate global warming prolongs current problems. There is no mechanism to enforce specific targets by a specific date. Furthermore, the reality of full implementation of national reduction targets is quite bleak with an optimistic estimate of a 3-degree temperature increase by 2100. On one hand, companies seem to set sustainability goals to appease the public and on the other hand politicians endorse climate change policies to avoid public scrutiny. Thus, the next ten-year window is crucial to accomplishing change in worldwide policies.

The change begins with approaching corporations with cautious optimism and holding them accountable to setting realistic goals rather than over pressuring them to set out of reach sustainable goals. Scott Poyton’s adoption of the duck metaphor, a symbolic picture of a man searching for his soul, from Michael Leunig’s Introduction to ‘A Common Prayer’ speaks volumes because his approach to solving problems is not exclusively applied to only issues of environmental liability. Society often dehumanizes corporations and views them as money making machines, but ultimately these corporations are run by people, fellow consumers. Therefore, appealing to the voices of the corporate world from “one’s Duck” can truly make a difference. Whenever a consumer connects to their fundamental beliefs it unleashes a wave of determination to make a change. Hence, combined with governmental and corporate efforts, NGO efforts will be able to transform the world. This trilateral partnership can be augmented through technological advancements within the next fifty years.

The three pillars of environmental system initiative are: encourage and build new networks of system leadership that shape global agendas, collaborate to accelerate, and scale public drive action. “Collaborate” is the key word. The World Economic Forum (WEF) realizes the importance of collaboration. Its agenda is based on bringing companies and people from different backgrounds and levels of sustainable practices to the same table with an unprecedented opportunity to negotiate and shape the future. WEF’s elitist reputation is no myth.

Even though WEF houses the Global Shapers Community, a non-profit organization, aiming to address community issues from a bottom-up approach, most of its members are between ages 30 to 40 with highly accomplishing careers making it infeasible for the average, young citizen to contribute to the organization’s efforts. With the largest youth population in history, this generation has ability to challenge the status quo. Thus, inclusiveness should be made more of a priority to generate representative discussions and viable plans to solutions.

Nevertheless, WEF’s emphasis on the the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is crucial. The circular model directly ties into the WEF’s firm belief in technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution being a catalyst for change in business sustainable practices. Shifting from the linear harvest-make-dispose extractive industrial model, a circular economy supports positive society-wide growth. It entails gradually decoupling from the consumption of finite resources, and designing out waste and pollution of the system to keep products and materials in use. The bottom line is that corporations need to understand their changing environment, challenge current practices, and continuously innovate based on combinations of technologies by increasing renewable energy sources, de-materialization, transparency, and feedback-driven intelligence; thereby facilitating the proliferation of economic, natural and social capital.

In the next ten years, I am hesitantly optimistic about more companies strengthening their sustainability and push for innovation. The fate of sustainability in following fifty years will be largely contingent upon a genuine effort for change by companies within the next ten years.

Class visit to the World Economic Forum.

Having gelato at a cafe in Geneva, Switzerland.