In 2020, regenerative businesses – with environmental protection and social goals embedded in their DNA – will start to take centre stage. At a minimum, consumers will start to demand B-Corp or Social Enterprise Certification and national laws in most G20 countries will start to reflect the obligations of businesses to end exploitation and extraction in favour of regeneration – meaning restoring nature, sequestering carbon, rebuilding communities and delivering multiple positive objectives.
In his annual letter in 2018, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset-management firm, argued that investment should be directed towards sustainable business. But he tempered this by saying that “BlackRock would not express its disapproval by selling the company’s securities … our responsibility to engage and vote is more important than ever”. In 2020 we will see a transition from engagement to action. Companies have had decades of warning from scientists and NGOs. The message from investors and consumers is that if they don’t now show any sign of changing their business models, it will be time to sell.
A business can be anything its founders, board, or employees want. But in 2020 the only thing it can’t be is exploitative: there will be no more excuses for overlooking exploitation. We all know how rife exploitation is, particularly in long complicated supply chains in the food or fashion industries. We know what modern slavery is. We know which activities result in biodiversity loss. And we know emissions contribute to climate change.
Acting in a regenerative way shouldn’t even require legislation or wrist slapping. It will require only a moderate amount of creativity. And this will be a significant opportunity for business to deal with crisis-level problems. If you need inspiration, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a good place to start.
We didn’t launch Elvis & Kresse to create a luxury goods brand, our sole reason for starting the business was to rescue London’s damaged, decommissioned fire hoses and keep them from languishing in landfill. By mounting this rescue and working in an ethical and sustainable manner we are tackling SDGs 8, 9 and 12.
Some businesses will lament the loss of exploitation as a business model, or get trapped focusing on “doing less bad”. But in 2020, a new breed of positive companies will be proud to show how they are doing more good. Think Guayaki, Interface, Lush, Bulb, and Seventh Generation.
Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, deplores the idea that business has no responsibility to the environment, no responsibility to social good, as “total bullshit. It’s a totally outdated way of thinking about the world.” In 2020, businesses will start to realise that greed is not just bad: it has no place in our future.
Kresse Wesling is co-founder of Elvis & Kresse
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