Volans Report: Business Must Lead Systems Change

Volans Report: Business Must Lead Systems Change

New study author forecasts business sector will shift from CSR to leading system change by 2020

From Unilever CEO Paul Polman’s decision to ditch short-term financial guidance to Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe’s focus on water security, business leaders around the world are showing signs they recognize what a report released today confirms.

It’s an unprecedented time for business to take the lead on creating market revolutions that will help fix the systems — food, energy and finance to name a few — upon which society depends.

This is the essence of the report, released from the U.K.-based consultancy and think-tank Volans.

  This diagram shows a growing number of sectors switching onto "stretch versions of the agenda," report author John Elkington says.

More than 1,000 companies now control half of the world’s market capitalization — and government leadership is “often conspicuous by its absence.”

Life is also set to become “increasingly turbulent” given climate change, resource crunches and population growth.

Given all these factors, it’s clear business has an “increasingly important role in creating a world fit for the nine billion people predicted for 2050,” the report states.

Based on his research for the study, report author John Elkington says he foresees the corporate responsibility and shared value landscape will be transformed by 2020.

A growing number of sectors are already stretching their thinking and action on sustainability issues, the Volans founder and chairman tells Axiom News.

This is pushing business leaders “way beyond denial and compliance to a new focus on social innovation and system change.”

“What is striking about new initiatives like The B Team, led by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin and former PUMA CEO Jochen Zeitz, is that they are seized with a new sense of urgency, a recognition that business has to act at a time when governments are vacillating, and stretch targets are the true way to go,” John says.

Where this breakthrough is not happening, the main constraint is not that people are blind to the need to change but that they think they have a fair amount of time. They also believe that this is “someone else’s responsibility.”

The next important step is to brief boards and C-suites on what sustainability really means — and what the implications are for embedding it into business strategy and business models, John says.

The Volans team interviewed 120 leaders, ranging from the CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies through to innovators “determined to disrupt.” These leaders were from multiple sectors and geographies.

“A world of around nine billion people by 2050 is going to demand radically better, breakthrough mindsets, technologies and business models,” John says.

“Our aim in the new report is to give a sense of the likely direction of travel — and introduce some of the innovators now embarked on the journey.”

To read the report, click here.

Related blog: Business Needs to Do What Government Can't

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger has been a Generative Journalist and curator with Axiom News for more than 15 years.

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