Four Stages of Business Evolution through the Lens of Ancient Indian Wisdom

This article was originally posted on Sandhill.com, here.
In the Upanishads and the Vedas, ancient Indian wisdom texts written over 2,500 years ago, the life of a human being is said to have four stages: studenthouseholderforest dweller and ascetic

These stages of human life are analogous to the stages through which modern business has progressed since the Industrial Revolution.

By reviewing the history of modern business with these stages in mind, we can see how the current upheaval of traditional business models fits within a coherent — and thus less anxiety-inducing — evolutionary path.

In ancient India, the four stages were as follows:

Being-Centered Leadership and Sustainable Business

This article was originally published by the Corporate Eco Forum, here

The great challenge of sustainable business is that even as global sustainability trends for climate change and ecosystems loss become more alarming, changes in corporate practices have not scaled at the required rate. Many senior executives seem to share this assessment—in a recent global survey of 1,000 CEOs, only one third felt that business was on track to meet these deteriorating trends.

Where do we look to drive large-scale change for sustainable business?

Levels of Change

Sustainable Business Initiatives Will Fail Unless Leaders Change Their Mindset

This article was originally posted on Harvard Business Review, here.

Ten years ago, sustainability issues were not considered business issues.  But today, most major corporations have a sustainability function.  Increasingly, companies are applying data-driven methodologies such as carbon footprinting, product indexing, lifecycle analysis, and ecosystem services valuation to support smarter decision-making and business innovation.

Yet, if the ultimate goal is to bend the arc of unsustainable business practices enough to make a crucial difference, we still have a long way to go.

How ‘being-centered’ leadership can drive capitalism

This article was originally published on GreenBiz.com, here.

In a recent GreenBiz article, Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s head of environmental affairs and creator of the “Responsible Economy” campaign, asked a fundamental question: “If [economic] growth is the elephant in the room, and if over time it’s unsustainable, and if it is the underpinning of our capitalist system … what would capitalism or an economy look like without growth or even with retraction?”

While Ridgeway’s question is multifaceted, one thing is clearAn economy where growth is not the driver would have a model of business success and leadership that is radically different from what we have today.

Ancient wisdom and new thinking on integrity (and how to avoid financial crises)

This article was originally published on The Guardian, here.

The likely $13bn (£8.9bn) fine imposed on JPMorgan by the US government has created a lot of buzz recently. The company was accused of passing off loans underlying mortgage-backed securities as low risk to one set of investors, while simultaneously betting with other investors that they were highly risky. It appears that the vast majority of these loans originated from Bear Stearns, acquired in March 2008 by JPMorgan. Ironically, this was done at the behest of the US government to keep the financial system from collapsing.

Sustainable Business Strategies: Investors

Investors are one of the biggest, “below the radar”, drivers of sustainable business for the future, and are making slow and steady progress in sustainable and responsible investments.

The lessons for corporate sustainability champions are:

  1. While it may not seem that investors care about sustainability, their interest is steadily growing and will become very visible in a few years.
  2. The cost savings for companies from sustainability and rising expectations of limited partners are driving the interest in these investments.
  3. This trend will accelerate when the metrics for monitoring investments improve, which seems to be taking place now.  Nearly half of all shareholder resolutions typically have to do with sustainability.

Sustainable Business Strategies: Risk Management

2012 was the year in which risk management strategies to cope with sustainability mega forces became more sophisticated.

risk management

The lessons for corporate sustainability champions are:

  • Risk management for climate change and other environmental threats must become part of enterprise risk management.  If it isn’t, then you’re really in the minority.
    You need to make it a priority within your company.
  • Focus on business resilience, not just to extreme weather events that disrupt supply chains and operations, but also to the threat of resource constraints.

Sustainable Business Strategies: Natural Capital

Natural Capital2012 was the year in which natural capital (also called biodiversity and ecosystems services) began to get on business’ radar. This is a theme that has real staying power.  

Advice for the Corporate Sustainability Champion:

  •  Stay up-to-date with this important, rapidly developing area of sustainability. It appeals to business executives because it is easier to grasp conceptually.
  • Show why natural capital matters to your company. The way to do so is through a pilot evaluation of its materiality to business.
  • Join the coalitions that are beginning to form in this area, such as the TEEB for Business Coalition and the EP&L Consortium.

Sustainable Business Strategies: Energy Strategies

InnovationSustainable energy strategies need to recognize three key themes: the resurgence of natural gas in the mix of fossil-fuel energies, the mixed picture with regard to clean energy technologies, and the slowing down of energy efficiency gains.

Advice for the Corporate Sustainability Champion:

1. Keep a close eye on the rapidly changing fossil-fuel energy mix. The glut in natural gas availability is a mixed blessing since it could lead to complacency.

2. For the long-term, renewable energy sources are still the surer bet in terms of predictability and price, despite their slowing growth in the last year

Top Sustainable Business Strategies from 2012

In case you missed it, this blog on Sustainable Business Strategies for 2012 was published on Triple Pundit on January 4th.

Sustainable Future
As you go about developing or revising your sustainable business strategies, it is worth reviewing last year’s key developments in important areas of business strategy.

They will only grow in importance this year.

Rather than focus on particular stories ably summarized elsewhere, here are key strategic themes and the underlying research that you can use as practical guidance.