Managing Sustainably: The new agenda for business

Vision 2050 was developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and its members to answer the question ‘What will the world look like in 2050’. It holds the vision: “In 2050 nine billion people live well and within the resource limits of the planet.” WBCSD has 200 mostly large international company members (combined annual turnover US$7 trillion, 15 million people directly employed). More about WBCSD and Vision 2050 can be found at
The Vision 2050 project addresses three questions: What does sustainable world look like? How can we realise it? What are the roles business can play in ensuring more rapid progress towards that world?
Vision 2050 does not offer prescriptive plan or blueprint but provides platform for dialogue, for asking questions. Its highest value may be in the narrative of the gap between Vision 2050 and business-as-usual world, and the questions and dilemmas that raises.
The Vision 2050 report, released in 2010, records the pathway to sustainable world in 2050 and the nine “elements” that lead to the vision. These elements were people’s values, human development, economy, agriculture, forests, energy and power, buildings, mobility and materials. It begins with vision for these elements and then “backcasts” to today and describes the must haves, the key themes and measures of success for the next four decades. Perhaps unsurprisingly the period between now and 2020 is described as the “turbulent teens” leading on to period of transformation.
Yes it is positive world view, one in which there are challenges and opportunities for business. Since its release in 2010 it has been used to enable engagement with governments and at international fora and has catalysed debate and action by individual companies and sectors as they come to terms with the opportunities ahead of them.
The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (NZBCSD ), which is one of 60 plus country organisations affiliated to WBCSD, has embarked on its own Vision 2050 project. Many other individual country affiliates are doing the same. The New Zealand Vision 2050 project is New Zealand contribution intended to help shape the sustainability agenda, catalyse action and provide relevant stakeholders with platform to bring about positive change for New Zealand.
The key questions for this project are:
• Given the megatrends of climate change, global population growth and urbanisation, and given the best efforts of business, governments and society, what is the picture of the best possible outcome for New Zealanders and New Zealand over the next four decades?
• And knowing this, how is New Zealand going to get there?
• What are the roles for business, government, society (individually and jointly), and how can they participate in ensuring more rapid progress toward that world – locally, nationally, globally?
Last year group of “future leaders” in business, mentors and facilitators took the work of WBCSD as its base and developed project charter which would include elements particular to New Zealand and its future. So to the list of elements were added ecosystem and biodiversity, tourism and the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).
In the second half of this year series of facilitated workshops and events involving future leaders, mentors and CEOs will help to shape New Zealand’s Vision 2050. As the process unfolds this column will give insights into particular elements and report progress. There will be opportunities for interaction and input.
So what will success look like when this phase of the project is completed towards the end of 2011?
• The key challenges for sustainable future for New Zealand in the next 40 years are understood by New Zealand business, society and government.
• New Zealand business is confident that we have strategy in which we can thrive towards the middle of this century.
• Individual companies and industry sectors are motivated to build on the work done for their own sustainable futures.
It is fairly well understood that business-as-usual will not cut it for sustainable future. The best news from the WBCSD Vision 2050 process was that the pathway and its elements is marked with massive opportunities; to do more with less, to create value, to prosper and to advance the human condition.
New Zealand business can be bold and active participant in this future world.

Graeme Norton is project champion and chair of the New Zealand Vision 2050 project.
(Reference: WBCSD Vision 2050 Report 2010)

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