The Industrial revolution is over and the sustainability revolution has begun. Sustainable development is out and sustainable retreat is in. This changes the game for everyone. Let me explain.
Development is a comfortable word. Revolution is an entirely different matter, everybody and everything is swept up in it and changed by it. The sustainability revolution is by definition all encompassing and will deliver a complete rethinking of everything we have taken for granted as it sweeps over our world.
This revolution will be more exciting, faster paced and more durable than the industrial revolution. It will smash old industries apart and create brilliant new ones. Revolutions by their very nature often drive unwanted change and some good will be swept away with the bad. It is already creating fascinating new business and whole new industries that most of us are not yet aware of. It’s like being back at the dawn of the Internet age with all its possibilities.
The future used to be predictable, an extension of the present. That is no longer the case – the future is not what it used to be. To many it will seem disjointed and hard to understand. That is because for the next decades there will be for the first time in human history two concurrent but separate futures. A part of our world will be racing towards a technological future and making innovation leaps that are hard for most of us to understand. The other future is a race towards a complete rethinking of how business works and interacts with 9 billion consumers and Mother Nature. The two futures will merge again, and at that point the future of the 21st-century will be sealed – for good or for bad.
The business of technology will be radically different. Some of the clear megatrends punching into the future include 3D printing, which will eclipse the Internet as a revolutionary business enabler. Whilst an American recently printed and fired a 3-D gun at home, the investment by NASA of $100 million to research the printing of food outlines where this technology will lead. From advances in genomics and nanotechnologies to an explosion in computing power, technology is changing the world faster than ever. Just a decade ago there was no iPhone, Skype, Facebook or Twitter to name a few of the things we now take for granted.
These scientific shifts are interesting but they mask the underlying fact that all businesses will be doing whatever they do in a new wholly new operating environment within the next 15 years.
Sustainable retreat will define the 21st-century in business. By that I mean doing things so differently that we consume almost nothing in the process of consumption and even undo damage caused by previous consumption. I come across and have invested in a series of businesses doing just that. These companies have understood the radical change needed to win in the 21st-century.
There will be a new market understanding – the 19th century was about production, the 20th about selling and consumption and the 21st about sharing, repairing, durability and upgradeability as the new pillars of consumption.
Peer-to-peer sales have become a trillion-dollar business disrupting retail models, and asset-sharing apps will explode old concepts of ownership. Who would have thought ten years ago that millions of wealthy consumers would be sharing bicycles in major cities across the world or that they would be renting out their spare rooms to create Air BnB?
Radical transparency in markets will drive new forms of governance. Ethical frameworks will replace legislation as drivers for corporate behavior from taxation to product strategy. Companies will need to be ethical to their core – not just compliant in their annual reports.
The future is broken but full of opportunity. Let’s get repairing the future.