From the President: What’s in Store for 2013?January 29, 2013
[Well,] the Mayans got it wrong, and we are still here in 2013, [but] the move to a more sustainable world will be slowed by continued economic and political turmoil (the former in Europe, China and America and the latter in Africa and the Middle East). Our political leaders, for the most part, are playing a defensive game on sustainability so innovation will continue to come from business and civil society. Pressure will mount on government to provide incentives for sustainable consumption and production, though getting rid of bad incentives such as subsidies for unsustainable agriculture will continue to feel like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
The private sector and civil society will partner around water conservation and quality, aim to reduce industrial use and contamination, increase agricultural efficiency (the sector uses 60 percent of the world’s freshwater) improve access to potable water and ensure long term supply. Energy use and emissions reductions will continue to be a priority, though the sheer scale of the change needed will continue in a depressingly insufficient mode. For example, deforestation is responsible for 20 percent of the world’s emissions and could be much reduced with government and market incentives for sustainably produced wood and agriculture products and forest carbon. The recent United Nations negotiations in Doha however did not move this forward appreciably, and 2013 is unlikely to see this improve.
We will continue to look for technological fixes to limited resources – modified seeds, more chemicals, information technology, miracle cleanup technologies, but our efforts will be frustrated unless we also begin to recreate the natural systems we have blithely destroyed. In one example, the protection against storm surges of wetlands buffering cities such as New York and New Orleans have been mostly destroyed. Any solution aimed at protected waterfront property against sea level rise and climate change, will need to include the restoration of key wetland and mangrove habitat as buffers in addition to creating sea walls, inflatable balloons that protect underground tunnels, etc.
Work on sustainability in 2013 will increasingly become a focus for innovation, for bright people who are problem solving – redesigning and making their businesses more competitive. This is happening at large companies such as Unilever, where the CEO Paul Polman has reshaped the company’s business and strategic plan to double its business, while aiming to halve the environmental footprint and source 100 percent sustainably. In the process he and his team are redesigning engagements with suppliers, taking cost out of the system, delivering good value to shareholders and protecting water, soil, biodiversity and providing sustainable livelihoods.
Redesign is also happening at the field level, such as in Kenya where small flower farmers are transforming their land so it protects the community watershed, composts waste, creates closed loop systems where tilapia waste is used as fertilizer, and provides good jobs for the community. Or in the cocoa industry, where demand for sustainable cocoa from companies such as Mars, Kraft and Hershey’s means intermediaries are learning new skills in sustainable practices and passing their lessons on.
In [the coming year], we will see more recognition that sustainability can be a source of innovation, not just risk avoidance and we should expect to see more scaling up and greater engagement across sectors, including the laggards such as electronics and mining.