8 Reasons (You Never Thought Of) That Sustainability Will Change Management

As sustainability affects how the world works, so will it affect how business works in the world. Here are eight changes that smart managers are already talking about.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Open Market

This past August, in first a blunt report and then a trail of media appearances and press interviews, U.S. military and intelligence analysts made an announcement: The changing global climate now poses a threat to U.S. national security.

By way of explanation, the officials expressed alarm (though they expressed it in their usual calm, matter-of-fact tones) about the directly threatening consequences of such phenomena as rising sea levels and melting ice. Some key military bases could go underwater, other bases are jeopardized by increasingly extreme storms and in the Arctic there will be sea lanes to protect where until recently the sea had no lanes.

But more threatening, said spokespeople, would be climate change’s second-order effects: water problems, drought, food shortages, mass migrations, pandemics, civil unrest, political instability and relief emergencies. Any of them could demand a humanitarian response or even military intervention, stated a National Intelligence Council report, which would tax U.S. military resources and “result in a strained readiness posture.”

“It gets real complicated real quickly,” said Amanda J. Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, in a New York Times article. “These issues now have to be … wrestled with” in drafting national security strategy.

The announcement got wide attention — prompting discussions that understandably centered on military concerns and public policy. But it should interest business executives and company leaders for two different reasons, as well.

First, it comes from an unbiased bystander in the how-should-we-address-climate-change debate, yet it pointedly describes a cascade of varied real-world consequences. That makes it a more than usually persuasive argument for how significantly sustainability challenges will alter the way the world works — not just environmentally, but socially, politically and economically, too.

Second, it’s proof that you don’t need to care about fixing climate change — or other sustainability problems — in order to give it your full attention. (“We’re not in the business of mitigation,” said one top military leader.) The effects will be so great that one of the world’s largest and most powerful organizations plans to build strategy around it.

In the course of interviews for the Business of Sustainability research project and the special report in this edition of the Review, we heard from numerous CEOs and management thought leaders who are already well ahead of the military’s curve.

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2 Comments On: 8 Reasons (You Never Thought Of) That Sustainability Will Change Management

  • dfwitt | November 18, 2009

    Intriguing post–thank you for presenting this as a business issue. I hadn’t been paying much attention to sustainability, thinking that it was outside of business and more of a social issue. This presents sustainability in a whole new light, with corresponding bottom line impact.

  • Rav Singh | December 7, 2010

    Really interesting post. Not too many people are discussing sustainability on a serious level, other than Gore, lol. But it is serious. There is so much going on in the world today with wikileaks being the latest, threat of mass destruction. We all need to come together and sustain the earth for future generations

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