Corporate CEOs today have the opportunity to transform a degenerative economic system that’s consuming and polluting itself into extinction into a regenerative system that will sustain future generations. Many CEOs have more power to shape the future than the presidents of most countries. They are in positions to ensure that their own organizations and those with whom they partner don’t contribute to climate change, environmental devastation, income inequality and the other crises that threaten life as we know it.
We are living in what can be referred to as a ‘Death Economy’ because it is depleting the very resources it needs for its long-term survival. We need to reverse this course and choose an alternative way — a ‘Life Economy’ that pays people to mine the plastics in the oceans and clean up other forms of pollution, revitalize coral reefs and regenerate other ravaged environments, recycle, and develop technologies that take renewable energy and sustainable products to new levels. The Life Economy is our hope for the future.
As I speak at economic conferences, universities and other forums around the world, I hear more and more corporate executives voice the need for their companies to participate in growing the Life Economy. They have begun insisting that their suppliers and other organizations with whom they associate or partner join them in this movement. They know that the business icons of the future will be those who lead the way to socially and environmentally responsible practices.
The good news is that we are well on the way to making the transition from a Death Economy to a Life Economy. Policies that support Conscious Capitalism, Impact Investing, B Corporations, carbon taxes, carbon offsets, wind, solar and other renewables, electric cars and mass transit systems, recycling and a myriad of other approaches are increasingly becoming mainstream.
More and more business leaders are committed to making sure that future generations inherit a thriving and viable world. For example, at the 2019 Business Roundtable meeting, CEOs from 192 of the world’s largest corporations promised to replace the goal of maximizing short-term profits with that of meeting the needs of customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities. That promise reflected a desire to replace a system that only provides profits for a handful of wealthy investors with one that ensures long-term benefits for people and nature.
I often hear people say that we must stop growth. That’s true regarding the Death Economy. However, we need growth in the Life Economy. We need to provide food to billions of starving and malnourished people, create renewable energy projects, develop industries that will recycle resources rather than mining them, and employ yet-undiscovered technologies that will take us along the Life Economy path.
Successful leadership is being redefined. CEOs who focused on short-term profits are the dinosaurs of modern business. They are being replaced by those who commit their organizations and their partners to pulling us back from the precipice of climate change and the other symptoms of the Death Economy, while spearheading the movement into a new era of long-term growth in areas that foster life on a healthy planet.
The new breed of successful business executives will:
1. Avoid association with investors and organizations involved in stock manipulation, financialization and other forms of nonproductive business “gambling”;
2. Insist that their suppliers and other partners commit to cleaning up pollution, recycling and adhering to zero-waste policies and/or ones that regenerate devastated environments;
3. Include the costs of environmental depletion, social disruptions and other “externalities” in their financial and economic metrics; and
4. Encourage their employees, suppliers and customers to support the Life Economy.