Managing sustainably: Scanning the future

Business as usual will come to an end in the next 40 years. But this is likely to create vast opportunities for New Zealand business. How can this be?
Just 40 years from now, some 30 percent more people will be living on this planet. For business, the good news is that this growth will deliver billions of new consumers who want homes and cars and television sets.
The bad news is that unchanging resources and potentially changing climates will limit the ability of all nine billion of us to attain or maintain the “big footprint” lifestyle that is commensurate with wealth in today’s affluent markets.
Twenty nine global companies representing 14 industries tackled this dilemma in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Vision 2050 project, published last year.
This year the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development will draw together chief executives from at least 50 leading companies nationwide, plus other executives, to apply to the Vision 2050 framework. Joining them will be members of “future leaders” group of executives aged 35 or under, already established by the Business Council. They will most likely still be living in 38 years’ time – when the scenarios are being played out for real.
Vision 2050 puts the world on track towards being sustainable by 2050 – with nine billion people “living well” and within the resources of the planet, having followed critical pathway which includes:
• Addressing the development needs of billions of people, enabling education and economic empowerment, particularly of women, and developing radically more eco-efficient solutions, lifestyles and behaviour.
• Incorporating the cost of externalities, starting with carbon, ecosystem services and water.
• Doubling agricultural output without increasing the amount of land or water used.
• Halting deforestation and increasing yields from planted forests.
• Halving carbon emissions worldwide (based on 2005 levels) by 2050, with greenhouse gas emissions peaking around 2020 through shift to low-carbon energy systems and highly improved demand-side energy efficiency.
• Providing universal access to low carbon mobility.
• Delivering four-to-tenfold improvement in resources and materials use efficiency.
In New Zealand we need to consider how to “live well” with population that has nearly doubled to seven or eight million.
If we think we have traffic congestion and other population and business-related pressures on fresh water, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, health and welfare services – what will they be like when there are seven million here?
The transformation ahead represents vast opportunities in broad range of business segments as the global challenges of growth, urbanisation, scarcity and environmental change become the key strategic drivers for business in the coming decade and business as usual as we know it ends.
In natural resources, health and education sectors alone, the World Business Council says opportunities could be worth US$0.5-$1.5 trillion year in 2020, rising to between US$3-$10 trillion year in 2050 at today’s prices, which is around 1.5-4.5 percent of world GDP in 2050. New Zealand business is well placed to help improve the efficiency of agriculture to feed the growing population.
Opportunities range from developing and maintaining low carbon, zero-waste cities, mobility and infrastructure to improving and managing bio capacity, ecosystems, lifestyles and livelihoods.
Enabling these changes will also create opportunities for finance, and information/communication technology and partnerships. There will be new opportunities to be realised, different external priorities and partners to be engaged and myriad of risks to navigate and adapt to.
Smarter systems, people, designs and businesses will prevail.
Now New Zealand business will have an opportunity to scan the future – and hopefully avoid the risks – and grow business here while helping the world manage its challenges well. M

This article was authored by Peter Neilson while chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development ( This month he becomes chief executive of the Investment, Savings and Insurance Association of New Zealand.

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