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Economics and the great divide
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Pass it on
I'm reading
Economics and the great divide
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Economics and the great divide
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
28 August 2018

Economics and the great divide

“Systems change is the ultimate pathway to the next economy we are striving to build.”

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Illustration by James Rewell

The buzz from excited groups as they huddle around the zero-waste lunch table is palpable. Perched on trendy furniture built from reclaimed wood, people talk animatedly, sharing new projects and swapping stories and ideas about reinventing business models, shifting corporate cultures, next generation sustainability in companies and rewriting the role of brands. I’m at the 2018 PURPOSE conference in Sydney, and it’s hard not to feel the tide is turning and the next economy is upon us. Especially knowing similar conversations and pockets of motivated individuals are coming together all over the globe.

And yet look the other way and I find people engaged in broken systems. Still believing in quarterly reporting, obligations to shareholders and profit over anything else. As I have conversations with well-meaning individuals who struggle to feel like the system may be broken and believe philanthropy is the only model of giving or doing good, I am challenged to believe the next economy has arrived. Yes, absolutely there is a ground swell and momentum in that direction, and lots of hard working people doing innovative, life-changing work, but with so many never having heard the term “social enterprise” and still stuck in the zero-sum mindset where it is EITHER doing good OR making money, it doesn’t feel like we have reached a tipping point… yet.

While I believe we will eventually get there—people will wake up, start listening, want to join the revolution (resource scarcity, rising temperatures and natural disasters will guarantee this in the long-term)—we need to get there faster. In the words of Paul Hawken, the brains behind Drawdown, “We need to turn the car around and drive away from the cliff face as fast as possible, not simply put the breaks on.” So, action now. Not when everyone wakes up to the inevitable crisis because the cliff is upon them.

In searching for the root cause, my vantage suggests it’s a communication problem. One side of the divide is talking a language of love, connection, regenerative design, stewardship. And the other side is talking a language of profit, scarcity, competition, market share, scale. Neither are wrong, they simply don’t translate to a shared understanding—much like trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak our language. So we need to find a language that speaks to both sides of the divide.

Talking about his time with Conservation International, Harrison Ford said, “We spent a lot of time talking about creating a movement. But movements are more likely to sell t-shirts than create the behaviour change required for things to change without a crisis. We came to realise people need to see a pathway to make the issue real in their life.” Us screaming about why it’s important to us doesn’t cut it. Those already contributing to this new economy, embedding sustainability into their supply chain, rethinking product design to eradicate waste, partnering with perceived competition to solve big issues, are doing so both because its what’s right AND because it’s in their own interest, economically. It’s become relevant and important to them.

So how do we make it relevant and important to everyone else? What’s meaningful for those on both sides of the divide? What’s a language the yet to be converted understand? From where I stand, it seems to be the language of money.

By pitching sustainable practice as a means to increasing profitability, people suddenly start listening: Showing them how a mining company slashed operating costs by replacing single-use lunch containers with a reusable system; sharing how a fast-food chain shifted to sourcing only ethical meat and raised its profit margins well above industry standard; highlighting the savings made by a manufacturing company when they redesigned production to transform waste into a marketable resource and stopped paying millions in waste disposal. In each of these cases, money talks.

For those already committed to the next economy, perhaps profit driven motivation is eyed with caution. But finding a common language, helping organisations find a way to make the foundations of the next economy relevant and important to them is something to celebrate.

And in my experience, one profit driven sustainability or social good initiative grows into an embedding of something bigger than profit, bigger than the individual—a purpose fully integrated into the core of their organisation. That then can metamorphoses into an opportunity to challenge the systems that previously defined them. And systems change is the ultimate pathway to the next economy we are striving to build.

So, if we are serious about pushing the next economy (from within or from outside), how can we shift the dial for more of the yet-to-be-converted? Here are some ideas I have:

1. Firstly, be willing to speak a language that’s relevant to your audience.

2. Be upfront and transparent about what you are trying to achieve and why you think sustainability it a pathway to achieving that.

3. Get people talking. Invite them into a robust debate where concerns and opposing views are celebrated. Validating apprehensions and evaluating differing points of view helps buy in and decreases the likelihood of being undermined by sceptics.

4. Empower others to take a lead in offering ideas and driving initiatives so they feel they have something to rally around and are more committed.

5. Make engaging in the initiative easy (no one is going to start recycling if they have to take items down the hall and into the back lane themselves) and prioritise the appropriate training when necessary so everyone feels safe in their ability to engage.

6. And finally, evaluate what is and is not working regularly so you can iterate and ultimately champion successes. This journey is something to be celebrated.

The Purpose:Fully works with organisations to embed sustainability thinking and practice – for profit. Get in touch to talk more about all things impact and systems change: info@thepurposefully.com

Kendall Clifton-Short

Kendall Clifton-Short spends her time helping people redefine what is possible and reshaping the way organisations think, connect and do business. She is fascinated by what drives behaviour and how to embed and leverage sustainable thinking and practice to build a future we are excited by. Find out more at www.thepurposefully.com

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