Business leaders should have seen this coming.
Business support for various aspects of sustainability – such as CO2 reduction, improved water management, and reduced deforestation – have been essential to the significant progress that has been made in these areas, says environmental group the World Resources Institute.
But, the WRI says, the very nature of today’s business model puts the world at risk. Current sustainability efforts are simply not enough.
“Underneath this welcome progress lies an uncomfortable truth: Most businesses’ growth is still predicated on more people buying more goods,” the WRI writes in a new report titled The Elephant in the Boardroom: Why Unchecked Consumption is not an Option in Tomorrow’s Markets.
Businesses look favorably on the expected growth of the world population by 9 billion people by 2050, and some 3 billion new entrants to the middle class by 2030, as a source of continued growth in sales volumes.
The problem with that plan is that “the planet’s natural systems and finite resources cannot keep up,” the WRI says, adding that “Studies cited in this paper show that we are already at or close to the limits of the planet’s ability to provide.”
The WRI adds that
“Whether we look at consumer durables, fast-moving consumer goods, or consumables, the pattern and risk of selling more stuff to more people is the same, and we see that improved practices are not sufficient to counteract anticipated global growth.“
In fact, business growth predicated on consumption is “the new elephant in the corporate boardroom,” WRI writes.
Materials to support population and consumption growth are a huge issue, the WRI says. It notes that many materials have finite resources, and even for those that are more abundant, “processing materials from extraction through manufacture, distribution, and end-of-life treatment requires the use of land, water, and energy.”
A new approach to this will ultimately be good for business, the WRI argues, because as resources and natural systems become overextended, supply chain risks and costs will increase.