Published: 09 March 2022  (Updated: 29 March 2022)

BLOG: Equity and the environment: Why a truly sustainable future starts with a shift in mindset

Dr Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future talks to CTPA about how business leaders can drive towards a just and regenerative future.

As Forum for the Future reaches its 25th anniversary, what are the biggest changes you have seen and are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Today we are at a critical juncture in our history, with a rapidly closing window of opportunity to create a world in which more than nine billion people will be able to live well, within planetary boundaries.  Over the last 25 years we’ve seen lots of companies tinkering around the edges of sustainability, but with operational models that continue to deplete the world’s resources and overlook human injustices and entrenched inequities.

On the flipside, we’re seeing a growing number of trailblazers too. Companies that are transforming their operations to work towards restoring our world, socially and ecologically. Crucially, these trailblazers are adopting what we call a ‘just and regenerative mindset’ and embedding this into a new way of making decisions. This mindset is the way to tackle the false divisions between environmental and social issues that prevent real progress.

I am optimistic that we will see the number of trailblazers increase; and that together they will help to bring about the wide-reaching transformations needed: from reinventing our current model of capitalism to building greater resilience and adaptive capacity. But of course, their success will be dependent on an enabling  operating context too.

Tell us more about what you mean by a just and regenerative business mindset?

Unfortunately, all too often we see ambitious net-zero strategies that completely miss the need to tackle climate justice, and instead create silos where social impact and environmental impact are treated separately as if they are not intrinsically linked. Other strategies offer up superficial solutions that ignore deeper systemic roots of problems.

Importantly, a just and regenerative mindset overcomes these challenges and is defined as one that: embraces the power of nature to renew and regenerate, understands that humans are a fundamental part of nature, and respects everyone’s universal rights and potential to thrive.

The reaction to this approach has been overwhelmingly positive. The elements of this definition – such as human rights being universally respected and social and environmental systems thriving – are hard to argue against, and land with people intuitively.

What is Forum for the Future’s Business Transformation Compass and how can companies use it to think about how they can be more sustainable?

Forum for the Future launched the Business Transformation Compass in November 2021 as a practical tool designed to help businesses assess and understand their current mindset, and what would be needed to adopt a just and regenerative one.

The Compass describes how a business can adopt this approach, whatever its starting point. It aims to help companies to progress towards a just and regenerative mindset by enabling them to understand their current mindset, embrace the need to reform, rethink the costs and benefits of transformation - and decide where to get started.

The four mindsets within the Business Transformation Compass

I will be presenting a webinar for CTPA on 21 March, to explain more about the Business Transformation and Compass and a just and regenerative future; it is free for anyone to sign up, so please join me to hear more by registering via CTPA’s events page. 

So, what are the top things that companies should think about?

The Business Transformation Compass shares four levels of action a business can take. But more important than the level of action is the mindset or intent that guides it. The four mindsets we commonly encounter in business are risk mitigation, zero harm, do good, and just and regenerative.

Rather than working through these mindsets sequentially, we strongly recommend that businesses make the shift to adopting a just and regenerative mindset now, no matter what the dominant mindset a business has had to date.

Do you have a particular message for SMEs, some of whom may not have yet had the chance to make much progress on their sustainability journey? Where do they start?

It would be easy for SMEs to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of implementing the shift to this mindset within their business. However, it’s important to keep in mind that change happens over time, not all at once, and there will be many small milestones along the way.

And, no matter where you are on your journey, or what resources you have at your disposal, adopting a mindset of possibility, and potential, which is the essence of just and regenerative, will always move you forward. It isn’t money, size or power that is the deepest lever for change, it is our values, our beliefs and what we think may, or may not, be possible.

Forum has created some critical shifts guidance that offers detailed information and advice on both of these potential starting points. It’s applicable to companies of all sizes, including SMEs, and has been designed to work alongside the Business Transformation Compass.

In short, my advice would be to embrace the concept of a just and regenerative mindset, and then embrace the wealth of support that is on offer to get there, including from Forum. We all want a future in which our planet, and everyone in it can thrive, and SMEs just like big businesses, hold the key to helping that happen. So, go on - take that first step today!

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