Managing Sustainably: Taking a 40-year view

This positive imagination of New Zealand’s cultural diversity in 2050 is one example of the outputs from two-day Future Leaders session held recently in Auckland as part of the NZBCSD Vision 2050 project. The process was challenging but hugely productive. Draft pathways for New Zealand were developed for the period now to 2050 and we began to explore the business challenges and opportunities that might arise over this timeframe.
To help the creative juices, the team was given an inspiring talk from David Houle – renowned American futurist. His key messages – avoid vision “deficit” and capitalise on the opportunities of ultra-fast broadband and ramp renewable energy levels up to 100% as soon as possible.
What can we learn from this? As managers and business leaders we need to be able to tap into the passion displayed by these young leaders – including those from within your organisation. They have fantastic ideas and once they are given the right tools and framework to work with, discussion about “the future” can lead to unexpected results and strategically relevant findings. While our project is operating at national and global level, the thinking behind this exercise is relevant for individuals, organisations and industry groups.
Our mindset in New Zealand, including our policy making and consumer behaviour continues to be too short term in nature. You can understand this position given the uncertainties with the global economic recovery and the challenges of making ends meet in our personal lives.
Given this uncertainty we tend to operate at the “needs” end of the Maslow hierarchy. This is where our leadership needs to step up. From business to politics, community groups and associations – we need sea change in our thinking that aligns with our global competitive advantage. Capitalising on our clean, green image is predicated on the effectiveness of our long-term thinking.
Recent polling indicates that the vast majority of New Zealanders believe environmental sustainability is important or very important to our global competitive advantage. Maintaining this advantage requires long-term perspective.
While change cannot happen overnight, the direction of our national, regional and local plans and policies should support growth based on positive vision of New Zealand. This vision should involve scenario where our income levels, social connectedness and productivity are high, and our environmental impact is low. To date we are missing that vision.
Our Vision 2050 project is an attempt to advance this visioning process. We are heartened by initiatives such as Pure Advantage and the work of the Sustainable Future Institute, which share similar aspirations and who we are engaging with as part of the project process.
To develop this further I encourage more organisations to conduct their own futuring exercises. The challenge is to push beyond the one, two or three year budgeting and forecasting cycle. What lies beyond requires broader view of local, regional and global trends? In what areas are the pressures for resources going to be most pronounced? What does your customer base look like given anticipated demographic, income distribution and cultural changes? Given this analysis you can begin to ask questions relevant to your organisation’s future. These should cover:
• How your products/services will be affected – including how these will be delivered.
• What skill base you will require, and how that differs from your existing talent pool – is our education system delivering what you will require?
• How will the challenges or changes required in other sectors impact your competitive position?
This analysis will help you to have the conversations with shareholders, financiers, employees and other stakeholders – including policy makers – that put the long-term survival and growth of the organisation at the centre.
In essence, this is what sustainability is all about. M

Jamie Sinclair is project manager for Vision 2050. [email protected].

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