There is a lot of talk about sustainability these days, and the term is now an essential topic for businesses discussed at The World Economic Forum’s Davos conference. For a company to become sustainable, it must first and foremost adhere to the guiding principles of human evolution.
The interest, chatter, and karma around sustainability generally center around a few elective business etiquettes designed to reduce the “footprint” of business in nature. Nice sub-optimization, perhaps, but still destructive. Less evil is still evil. And less evil does not yield sustainability.
Indeed, companies’ sustainability must be slightly more severe than riding a bicycle to work for a photograph published on the new human resource website.
The Paradox of Evolution
In my advisory role to many clients (including governments) looking to change their future, I focus on a more all-encompassing and genuinely impactful implementation of sustainability, one I align directly with nature’s evolution.
For a company, defined as a group of people collaborating on a business opportunity, to become sustainable, its people and business strategies must adhere to nature’s evolution, or it will just perish. So, we must pay close attention to a few pertinent lessons of sustainability evolution has honed and demonstrated to us over three billion years.
First, sustainability, in its absolute sense, does not exist. Nothing in this world is truly sustainable, not even the world itself. Planet Earth is estimated to last another five billion years before the sun’s heat scorches it to unlivable for humans. So, for practical purposes, we refrain from considering the extraneous impact of the cosmos and define sustainability as far as our imagination stretches, our best proxy of human absolutism described as “until the end of our time.”
Second, sustainability amongst changing externalities depends on the constant adaptation and renewal of supporting resources. Few of the world’s resources are supposed to exist or live for five billion years, so renewal and displacement of each resource are needed to support the moving goalposts of sustainability optimally. Even the timely death of each of us is a harsh but vital ingredient to the evolution of human sustainability. Human sustainability is not secured by each of us attempting to live as long as possible but by renewing ourselves with the most robust gene pool possible.
Terms of endearment
The indiscriminate use of “sustainability” and “renewable” in many publications highlights the depravity of reason and confusion caused by the confounding of evolutionary consequence and cause. So let’s clear the air and repeat after me:
To achieve a proxy of sustainability, renewal must be at its cause.
Please pay attention to some companies aligning themselves with evolution’s paradoxical nature. Steve Jobs renamed Apple Computer into Apple, and for Apple to become sustainable, it had to rely on products that may not involve the sale of a computer. But then he made a mistake; he designed a non-renewable key product strategy. Wait for it. Shell Oil renamed itself to Shell, and for Shell to become a sustainable company, it cannot be dependent on oil as a non-renewable resource.
The Human Element
However, we tend to associate sustainability solely with the natural resources available to us. The most crucial element of a sustainable company is the human element—the role of humans not just as productive employees but also as loyal customers and faithful shareholders. A company’s sustainability cannot be achieved without the renewable interests and trust of all these humans.
The pivotal human in this triumvirate is the role of customers. More satisfied customers will drive the interests of shareholders and subsequently employ a more substantial number of employees through their increased investment. The crucial question, therefore, becomes how to identify sustainable customers.
The naive answer is that marketing people are taught to deploy clever positioning meant to lure customers in to accelerate the purchasing behavior of prospects by using a clear message meant to entice them all. The reality is customers make up their minds as to why they are interested in buying a product. Many reasons are unrelated to the feature set. Instead, contemplations are associated with a purchasing decision’s snowballing (business) risks. Therefore, procuring sustainable customers requires more than selling a point product. Rather, sustainable companies must understand evolutionary needs.
An entity-relationship model of many-to-many representing a marketplace. A global marketplace connecting sellers and buyers in which the perceived value of a product or service from a seller is eventually exchanged for trust – deployed by money – from the buyer. A company is part of a broader competitive ecosystem aiming to fill an unmet customer need or want.
Rules of the road
I’ll spare the more profound economic logic for now. Still, marketplaces can only become sustainable when they adhere to the strict operating principles of a meritocracy, which can only be built on the paradoxical rules that secure a free-market mechanism. In such a way, the evolution of a seller’s wants and needs continually aligns with the development of a buyer’s wants and needs. With the company reflecting a change and an ethos, customers can continue to stand behind it.
To elaborate on Steve Jobs’ mistake: Apple iTunes’ implementation of the agency model for the sale of digital media is unsustainable, for it is in blatant violation of freedom to both buyer and seller. But Apple is far from alone. Facebook deploys an oligarchically controlled distribution of information sponsored by advertising, violating the evolutionary principles of freedom and thus unsustainable. Most companies today violate the rules of our evolution and, therefore, will, after a brief period of excessive populism, merely perish. And not in a renewable way, for the public trust has been tarnished by the trojan horse of evolutionary deceit.
For a company to become sustainable, it must do more than hastily apply sustainability to its public relations collateral. It must understand and implement the operating principles that secure access to all its renewable resources, including its most important but often neglected resource: humans.