At one level, there is the obvious point that we are consuming our environment at an ever greater rate of change… and now that our population has surpassed 7 billion people (as of 1 November 2011 according to the United Nations), this will only get worse. So, as Adam Smith (a Scotsman like Stephen Leonard) implied, the “invisible hand” of capitalism must have a profound impact on our ability to find solutions that address sustainability. Alternatively, sustainability and capitalism are linked in that if we do not find solutions for creating a sustainable world with the system (capitalism) that has enabled more wealth creation and creativity than any other by far… well let’s just say it will get very ugly.
At another level, what does one do with the statement? I actually view it as a call to action, and there is one segment of the “capitalist” community I believe can have the most significant impact on clearly demonstrating the positive linkage between sustainability and capitalism: THE CFO! In some organisations the Chief Sustainability Officer reports to the CFO and certainly there are some fiduciary responsibilities on sustainability reporting in larger companies. However, this is not what I mean. Basically, I believe that
if CFOs of the world treated sustainability reporting like financial reporting, we would create a level of clarity that would drive behaviour — quickly.
In essence, environmental information should be treated with the same level of transparency, accuracy and integrity as financial information. There should be pounds/pence or dollars/cents attributed to all environmental data and all decisions. Environmental information should be measured and assessed over time… just like financial data.
In other words, CFOs of the world should bring core skills that they already have to environmental decisions: Understand, Report and Manage! It is time to take the confusion and haze out of measuring the impact that decisions have on our environment and get serious about treating environmental information with the same level of scrutiny as financial information.
This is not rocket science, CFO’s have centuries of accumulated knowledge to bring transparency, accuracy and consistency to the reporting of the impact that our decisions have on the environment.
This behavior change will help CFOs and other leaders do what they do best – find and exploit opportunities, mitigate risk, and create value.
Tim Smit (CEO, The Eden Project) was another interesting speaker (amongst many) at the conference. Firstly, Mr Smit said that be believes we have a fifteen year opportunity to make a profound impact on sustainability… or it will be too late. Whatever the time frame, time is not our friend as we think about addressing sustainability. Secondly, he encouraged us to think about what our descendants will think about us in 120 years time if we do not do something now to fix an obvious problem.
So for my bit, I will push hard with CFOs to leverage learning from financial reporting and apply them to sustainability in order to make environmental reporting as transparent, accurate and actionable — so we quickly drive changes in behaviour. And yes, at AMEE we are really trying hard to make money by ensuring we deliver accurate, transparent, and consistent environmental intelligence… an example of sustainability and capitalism going hand in hand!