Leaders on Plan(et) B

Ludger Ramme2
Sasa Mrak portret2021

According to some researchers, the first occurrence of the word “sustainability” can be traced in a book of a German forestry expert, Carl von Carlowitz, written in 1713. In its Treaty on Forestry, Mr. von Carlowitz defended the idea that timber should be exploited in a way compatible to its “perpetual” use, as a scarce resource that should be managed so as to make sure it could still serve the needs of future generations.

The concept has evolved since, virtually becoming a reference point in every single aspect of our life, but its foundations have remained the same: how to ensure that exploiting a resource, in a given context “fenced” by external limits and boundaries, happens to the benefit of current generations without jeopardizing the right to its use of future ones. Over the past 30 years, the environmental profile of the term has been “enriched” by reflections on its social, human, inter-relational, political and global drivers.

More recently, the UN have contributed enormously to the need to operationalize this principle thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have then become a powerful global benchmarking tool and the main catalyst for sustainability mainstreaming worldwide. These goals associated with 169 targets have been adopted in 2015 by the 193 member states and supposed to be reached until 2030. Some have called them “the closest thing the Earth has to a strategy.”

The society's response to the biggest pollutants and energy consumers has becoming very critical, more and more reflected in negative consumers decisions. On the other hand, new trends are emerging in the direction of responsible environmental stewardship and low energy consumption. This is an opportunity for companies to get a competitive advantage from two megatrends - digitalisation and sustainable development. Both will have a tremendous impact on our lives.

It is probably fair to say that the global community – at least its business environment and at civil society level – has reached a strong consensus on the need to embrace sustainability. And even if from a political point of view not all governments on Earth share this concern, there is a growing consciousness about the risks climate emergencies are posing to our economies and societies and the resulting need to intervene.

But how significantly this awareness translates into concrete practices by companies? And what instruments can support the industry in the necessary changes to make sustainability a pillar of every business culture and strategy? Any company can incorporate them into their business model. Just as digitalization will touch just about everyone, so can sustainability in all its aspects.

One of responses lies in leaders and managers. We should acknowledge that as bridge-builders and as actors for change, good managers are key actors for the strategic development of their companies. In July the widest group of CEOs ever mobilised in Europe announced that on 1st November they will be knocking on the doors of Ursula von der Leyen and her team to implement an overarching strategy for a Sustainable Europe by 2030.

To raise awareness on the role of management in the sustainability transition CEC, the European Network of more than 1 million managers, is launching its #ManagersforFuture campaign. It aims at discussing the evolving cornerstones of the managerial profession and the best practices to help companies adopt a future-proof management model – from skills over structure to sustainable impacts.

Because of power that business, it is a must that a critical mass of business society understands how some goods are mostly limited, while renewable resources are commonly mismanaged.

To conclude, if business, politics and society have started calling for some serious action, how close are we to break-even point of achieving long known triple bottom line – People, Planet, Profit, concept widely known from 80’ but mostly still ignored?

As we in business know, there can always be a plan B, but too many people are forgetting - there is no planet B.

By Ludger Ramme, President, CEC European Managers
Saša Mrak, MBA, Executive Director of Managers Association of Slovenia