“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”.
By now you might have heard of the speech Greta Thunberg delivered to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019. And if her words don’t shake you, I’m not sure what will.
It’s a fact that business has paid lip service to the environment.
It’s a fact that big business is resistant to change.
It’s a fact that we need to do more than joining the ban on plastic straws or change a lightbulb.
It’s a fact that the economic model we’re on is unsustainable.
The argument Greta makes is a moral one. Not a selfish one. The question for business is: Do we wait for the government to regulate or go ahead and take action ourselves?
Early signs are positive. Businesses like Unilever and Zara are looking beyond the bottom line and assessing their societal and environmental impact.
Unilever has pledged to halve the use of new plastics by 2025. The consumer goods giant, which owns more than 400 brands including Dove, Comfort, and Sure, currently uses 700,000 tonnes of plastic each year. To get there it will cut its absolute usage by 100,000 tonnes – by switching to selling reusable packs, concentrated refills and using alternative materials, including recycled plastics in its containers – and start collecting more packaging than it uses.
Zara, the fast-fashion retailer, recently announced that all of the cotton, linen, and polyester it uses will be organic, sustainable or recycled by 2025. The company has other green goals, too, including making all of its stores "eco-efficient" by the end of 2019, to reduce carbon emissions, save energy and minimize waste. Customers can already drop off used clothing, footwear, and accessories in more than 1,300 stores to tackle fashion's waste problem.
Both are leading the way on the concept of 'circular design'. They are adopting a holistic view of production, taking advantage of idle capacity, reusing materials and increasing the lifespan of products, to save both money and the planet.
Circularity is unlocked when technology and data are applied to real human needs. Scaling the circular economy just requires us to act differently and adopt new behaviours. Behaviours that are regenerative, not wasteful.
Brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and closer home, hotel chain, Abode India and many others have shown that sustainable business practices drive positive impact for the environment and the bottom line.
So if there is a will, there is a way. And there’s no better time to start than today.