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Sustainability Lite–Has Business Lost Touch with the ‘True Meaning’ of Sustainability?

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Some businesses that have successfully positioned themselves as world leaders in business sustainability, contribute to unbridled consumerism by heavily marketing products that people don’t need, or are harmful. Meanwhile, some otherwise non-material endeavours, that on the surface seem to foster a peaceful coexistence between people and nature, such as yoga and fitness, are over-commercialised and merchandised. Some businesses embrace eco-efficiency but remain disinterested in their social, cultural or community impacts. For a movement that grew out of a fear that humans were irreversibly degrading their only home, does contemporary sustainability practice in business honour the movement’s original aspirations? Or has an economic growth and profit-orientation drawn sustainability notions into mainstream business activity without fundamentally changing? This paper offers an unapologetic critique of practices by selected businesses with strong sustainability reputations juxtaposed against requirements for sustainability and an array of possible business activities to contribute to sustainability. The key businesses considered are Unilever, Coca-Cola and Lululemon Athletica. In doing so, it highlights some more transformative opportunities available to business to ensure that the ‘best of business’ (innovation, efficiency, coordination, responsiveness, value creation and sharing) can be brought to bear on humanity’s existential challenges.

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Sustainability Lite–Has Business Lost Touch with the ‘True Meaning’ of Sustainability?

  1. 1. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017 Sustainability Lite – Has Business Lost Touch with the ‘True Meaning’ of Sustainability? Scott Losee
  2. 2. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017   This audience understands – 1. Tremendous value some businesses have contributed through sustainability 2. That it is not enough  Presentation will consider –  Artificial separation of firms and brands enabling inconsistent ethics  Inherent unsustainability of products and services  The relative depth/superficiality of redirection… potential for disguising perpetuation of the status quo Introduction
  3. 3. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  Weak sustainability  Modified continuation of status quo  Dematerialising  Decoupling economic development from environmental impacts  Eco-efficiency Strong sustainability  Radical economic change  We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. True meaning One sustainability  Lasting betterment and the possible means to it
  4. 4. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  Requirements for Sustainability  See detail in written paper  Requirements from Bob Gibson’s Sustainability Assessment  National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD), 1992  Evolution of ideas from Brundtland and before
  5. 5. Build human-ecological relations to establish and maintain the long-term integrity of socio-biophysical systems and protect the irreplaceable life support functions upon which human as well as ecological wellbeing depends Socio-ecological system integrity Protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems PRINCIPLE REQUIREMENT NSESD UNPACK…
  6. 6. Build human-ecological relations to establish and maintain the long-term integrity of socio-biophysical systems and protect the irreplaceable life support functions upon which human as well as ecological wellbeing depends Socio-ecological system integrity Protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems PRINCIPLE REQUIREMENTS NSESD Questions for each one Does this business decision help…? Does this business model help…? Does this investment help…? Does this product, service or brand help…?
  7. 7. Ensure that everyone and every community has enough for a decent life and that everyone has opportunities to seek improvements in ways that do not compromise future generations’ possibilities for sufficiency and opportunity Livelihood sufficiency and opportunity Enhance individual and community wellbeing and welfare by following a path of economic development that safeguards the welfare of future generations PRINCIPLE REQUIREMENT NSESD
  8. 8. The challenge for willing thinkers in business is to investigate, explore and experiment with new strategies and business models that will allow business to continue to energise sustainability
  9. 9. Discord
  10. 10. Brand dissonance Unilever’s simple purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace Dove ‘Real Beauty’ now followed by self-esteem project Lynx marketed (in parallel) using soft porn Logically, social responsibility needs to be consistent and universal across a firm’s activities To marketers, brands are a convenient abstraction. To consumers, they have to be ‘real things’ Does artificial separation of firms and brands impede sustainability or business ethics?
  11. 11. Inherent sustainability
  12. 12. Product/service unsustainability Replenish 100% of water; partnering with cane farmers in GBR catchment, ‘Best Corp. Citizen’ award… Performs well against many of the ‘requirements’ Uncharitable description – Coca-Cola sells an addictive, sugar-ridden beverage to a youthful market by associating with happiness, positivity and the good life Not cigarettes, arms, brothels or gambling At best, no worse than numerous like products As a species, how should humans eat and move?
  13. 13. False prophet?
  14. 14. Disguised perpetuation of the status quo? As athletes and yogis, we understand that environmental health is the foundation of personal health; we’re as passionate about reducing our environmental impact as we are about staying fit. Uncharitable description – Sells over-priced active wear by associating itself with the practice of yoga, loved by millions worldwide Through yoga, one can achieve greater contentment in part by refraining from consumerism Possible to practice yoga perfectly well without Lululemon gearScott’s rather sad yoga mat.
  15. 15. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) According to Lululemon— Aparigraha (non-possessiveness, absence of greed): You know that adage about ‘Keeping up with the Joneses?’ Aparigraha is the opposite of that. Aparigraha teaches contentment with what we have, instead of grasping after what we don't have. — http://static.lululemon.com.au/education/yoga/yamas
  16. 16. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  Sufficiency – how much is enough? $1,300 $31,781 $522,000 $0 $100,000 $200,000 $300,000 $400,000 $500,000 $600,000 Nigerians Chinese Australians $0 $1,000 $2,000 $3,000 $4,000 $5,000 $6,000 $7,000 $8,000 Australians Celebrities (Kardashian, Turnbull) Billionaires (Branson) Millions Average wealth per adult (A$) Estimated net worth of individuals (A$)
  17. 17. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  One common issue… Company Selling Sold as Unilever Deodorant Empowerment or sex appeal Coca-Cola Cola beverage Happiness, positivity and the good life Lululemon Active apparel Transformational experiences for people to live happy, healthy, fun lives Separation of tangible and intangible
  18. 18. Sustainable business model archetypes Source: Adapted from Bocken, Short, Rana, & Evans, 2014
  19. 19. Sustainable business model archetypes Source: Adapted from Bocken, Short, Rana, & Evans, 2014
  20. 20. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  VAUDE – repair, don’t replace We at VAUDE say: repair it – and do it yourself! VAUDE & iFixit will show you how it’s done They believe in their equipment They believe in promoting sustainability in line with customers’ enjoyment of outdoors Brand loyalty Scott’s rather sad bike bag.
  21. 21. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  Conclusions  If socio-ecological crisis persists, then only long-term business value is in activities aligned with sustainable living  Reviewing business against core sustainability principles reveals gaps and opportunities  Sustainability of a business and its ethics, truthfulness and transparency inter-related  Conventional marketing dishonest—can’t hide behind brands  Sustainability requirements far broader than eco-efficiency  Opportunities in the sustainable business model archetypes
  22. 22. loseeconsulting.com.au Presentation to National Sustainability in Business Conference 2017 | 21/3/2017  Thank you  In 1995, Gladwin, Krause & Kennelly concluded: …The worry is that it is all too easy to… reduce psychic pain by denying the reality of unsustainability… to silently acquiesce in continuing patterns of destructive behaviour, to despair that the social and ecological problems of the earth are too insurmountable to cope with and, as a result, to more deeply cocoon corporations in the service of luxury over-consumption in contented pockets of the planet while the larger global community and biosphere atrophies. However, to do so erodes our humanity, our spirituality and the chances of survival for both our own descendants and our own. Scott Losee scott@loseeconsulting.com.au 0404 467 228

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