Radley Yeldar (RY) sat down with investment banker-turned sustainability game changer, Martin Rich, to discuss sustainability beyond 2020 and his latest endeavour, Future-Fit Foundation.
We are at a critical point in sustainability with many strategies and targets expiring in 2020. What do you want to see from the next era of sustainability?
I want ‘sustainability’ to vanish from our lexicon. I want us to get to the point where what we call ‘sustainability’ today, becomes part of doing business and embedded in our everyday decision-making. To achieve the scale of change we need, we must re-orient the relationship between the impact we have on the world and financial gain. And this needs to show up in the way products are developed, made and marketed.
Today, we live in a system where you can have a significantly negative impact on things like water or biodiversity, and yet make a substantial profit. If we continue to bolt sustainability on to business, or treat it as a siloed initiative, we are facing catastrophic consequences. This is not an exercise in goodwill. It’s a necessity for business viability and the survival of our species.
To unlock this challenge, business must re-engage with its true purpose beyond just making money and show how it also creates environmental and societal value.
Many of our clients experience framework fatigue. What’s different about Future-Fit?
We created Future-Fit to change the system, not just certify or report on incremental change. A lot of great work has been done in this field over the years, but we created the Future-Fit Business Benchmark to be a pragmatic, strategic management tool to help businesses make better, more informed decisions about how to become truly sustainable. Ultimately, we and all those who helped co-create the Benchmark, have done the hard work so businesses don’t have to. Future-Fit is a holistic approach designed to cover all system-critical issues and help eliminate the self-selection bias we see in a lot of sustainability strategies.
We want Future-Fit to be accessible to as many people as possible, so our tools are crowd-sourced, free and available now for use by advisors, investors and companies.
We love the science-based approach of Future-Fit. What do you mean by extra-financial break-even point?
When I was working in investment banking, I realised that every decision we made came with an impact beyond financial markets – be that good or bad, or both. I’m an engineer by training so I realised that somehow this impact must be measurable, and if it could be managed it could be changed. So, my work since then has been about combining the power of money with the resources, impact and potential of business to create a socially just, environmentally restorative and economically inclusive world.
Every business and household understands the concept of break-even – the need to spend what you bring in, or ideally less. You can’t operate at a loss for long, but when it comes to our environment we’ve been trading at a loss since the industrial revolution. Our planet and society are breaking down and soon the businesses that rely on these resources will too. So, the idea of the extra-financial break-even point is to ensure we are operating in a space of environmental and social ‘profit’ – a place where business, society and the planet can all flourish to their full potential.
What advice do you have for companies looking to develop a new sustainability strategy beyond 2020?
Think about this as a transformational journey. It shouldn’t just be a sustainability strategy and it needs to be bigger than a five-year business strategy. Get senior management to create a picture of what their business would look like operating on the other side of the extra-financial break-even line – and what that transformation would look like. If Future-Fit’s framework can help on this journey – and we believe it can – even better!
By Ashleigh Gay
Ashleigh Gay is a senior sustainability consultant.