Earthquakes and tropical storms in Haiti. Fires in California, Greece, Turkey and Siberia. Record temperatures in Sicily. Drought in the Western U.S. A tropical storm hitting New England for the first time in a generation.
It seems environmental disasters are now part of our daily news diet: it feels like this is the new normal.
Many of us are hard-wired to accept this change and get on with our daily routines, just as we have adjusted to long commutes, robocalls, e-mail scams and other man-made nuisances that degrade our quality of life.
We’re human beings and we’re adaptable.
Up to this point, society has been rather complacent in the face of inconvenience, injustice and catastrophe; but signs have emerged that things might finally have reached a breaking point.
A Paradigm Shift is Afoot
Business leaders need to pay close attention to the paradigm shift now underway because it would be a shame if they and their enterprises managed to survive external threats like the pandemic only to fall victim to their own shortcomings – complacency and an inability to change with the times.
While the wealth gap, lack of diversity and ethical concerns represent growing challenges to companies, the greatest change driver is the environment. Scientists are clear that if we allow global warming to continue, daily temperatures will rise, droughts will worsen, fires will become more destructive, air quality will deteriorate, hurricanes will become more destructive and the ice caps will melt. The swelling oceans will swamp coastal areas where the majority of the population lives.
Some projections foresee over a billion people displaced by the year 2050. Considering how much social and political upheaval has been caused by a few hundred thousand people migrating into the United States and Europe, it’s hard to imagine our current social order could surmount the stress of one-eighth of the planet’s population forcing their way into other countries.
“Heads will only roll figuratively, but companies and institutions will be brought down by the forces of change.”
Calls for ESG are Growing and Will Amplify
Major institutions are finally taking action. ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) – which encompasses all of the global threats to a viable future for humans – is gaining substance and force around the world.
The investment community is tying lending and support to the ESG performance of client companies. Governments and major corporations are making ESG progress a requirement for their suppliers. Employees are looking for significant commitments to ESG from their current and future employers. Consumers will increasingly avoid brands on the wrong side of environmental and social issues.
These are not empty threats. All of this is happening now and will only become more substantive and rigorous over the next few years.
Leaders Need to Shake Off the Propensity to be Numb to Threats
At this pivotal moment, leaders and those who advise leaders cannot allow themselves to become numbed by mounting threats or lulled by complacency because our lives are still comfortable. This mistake has been made by societal elites in the past and has not led to happy outcomes. Heads will only roll figuratively, but companies and institutions will be brought down by the forces of change.
So, what is the best course of action?
Accept that we are in a time of massive change. Accept that stakeholder expectations around ESG are becoming a critical factor in the future success of all organizations in all sectors. Do your homework about how trends are affecting your sector, and assess how you measure up today and how you will measure up as the expectations steadily and quickly mount, like the rising water and rising temperatures outside.
Don’t be caught off guard when these external forces bear down on you and your enterprise. There is time to revise strategies, business models, policies and practices. Timely change now will not only ensure your survival; it will allow you to thrive.