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Bold systemic changes please… and soon!

The world needs action on climate change more than, and faster than ever – so what is business going to do about it?, asks TPB’s Fiona Donnelly.

It’s hard to believe it is already over 20 years since Jerry Porras and Jim Collins first coined the term BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).  And how relevant it remains to this day.

There is so much talk of the need for “bold leadership, urgent change, systemic adjustments” we do indeed need BHAG’s, but now with a dose of BLUCSA thrown in.

Why do we need BLUCSA?  Every day, regardless of what we do, we all take from the natural ecosystem of the planet – whether it’s personally consuming water/food/power or in business taking raw materials/making things and thereby creating waste/consuming energy and so on.

And there’s a wealth of sources that show how we are collectively taking so much that we are living beyond planetary limits, that is we are consuming more from the enviro ecosystem than the planet can renew.

One particularly popular analysis is Earth Overshoot Day – it “marks the date when we (all of humanity) have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year.” In 2019, it fell on July 29. This is the earliest such day ever.

To put it another, way we are living our collective lives in ongoing and accumulating overdraft and we are consuming 1.75 Earths per year.  This means we use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate.  Worryingly, we are making personal and business choices to overfish, overharvest forests, create waste, emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere etc than ecosystems can absorb.

And we have limited time to change our ways, put the natural ecosystems on to a better and more sustainable path and reverse the damage that we have already caused.

Hence the need for BLUCSA, as well as BHAGs.

Thankfully – all be it sadly – once again there is a wealth of robust intel to support the need for urgent change.

In October 2019, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued their latest report based on more than 6,000 scientific references, in which it states: “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society… With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society”

In November 2019, the UN Environment Programme called out the urgent need to close the carbon reduction commitment gap to avoid large parts of the planet being uninhabitable. On the Brink, UNEP’s Emissions Gap 2019 Report  shows that commitments need to be increased fivefold, that they need to be delivered on, fast, and that there is a clear role, and responsibility, for businesses to help drive the change.

Climate responsibility is coming home to roost in the business domain and developed world – perhaps in the most apparent way ever – where the tragedy of the wildfires in 2017 and 2018 in PGE’s service area in Northern California were so huge due to the extremely hot and dry conditions, that PGE could well be remembered as the first climate change bankruptcy.  Such outcomes make it hard to put one’s head in the sand and live in denial of the natural vulnerabilities that many others, particularly in developing countries, already face on a daily or seasonal basis.

So this really is a moral imperative for all of us, we cannot go on doing what we are doing.  This is an immutable fact that we all need to embrace and act upon, urgently

Thankfully, leaders seem to be reflecting more on the holistic sustainability of their businesses in the long term – yes, financial stability is a familiar (if limited and one dimensional) concept, but consideration of non-financial measures and factors, and beyond quarterly reporting, is becoming more commonplace.

Some corporations are going so far as to reflect on their higher reason for being – or purpose – and their commitment to all stakeholders, not just the more traditional view of its value to shareholders.  The Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation signed by 181 CEOs in the US moving away from Shareholder Primacy is an encouraging development. This broader approach has the potential for multiple wins for the company economically, environmentally and socially, and for employees, potential employees, investors, customers, supply chain partners and more. Let’s hope this commitment manifests in change and action – even BHAGs and BLUCSA? – in the US and beyond.

This broader view of considering the value to stakeholders also opens out thinking to consider the bigger ecosystems that corporates impact as well as those ecosystems that are impacted by corporates. Working together with these various stakeholders and in a complementary way can make significant changes at this systemic level which is exactly what is needed. Rather than lots of small changes implemented in isolation at enterprise level eg recycle more, we will be able to make the very necessary bigger impact and faster if we work together to improve the systems today eg work with supply chain partners to design out waste.

Our planet requires us to change and make more responsible and sustainable choices.

BHAGs and BLUCSA is an attractive approach for leadership to take to achieve this.


The Purpose Business can help you develop and achieve the goals that are right for your business and the planet.  Contact us  for a chat to find out how.

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