Three Scenarios for the future of Sustainability in 2017

January 5, 2017

By Rosalinda Sanquiche, CSE North America

Whether good or bad for sustainability, 2017 will not be business as usual.  With the Donald Trump administration, increasing acceptance that climate change is real and the Paris Agreement from COP21 being ratified in record time, this year we’ll have to answer key questions:  How do we implement voluntary restrictions on carbon emissions?  What does the US electorate’s “vote for change” mean for sustainability efforts going forward?

One might gain insight to 2017 and beyond by watching how the COP21 agreement is managed.  Findings from CSE research, particularly of companies in Silicon Valley (watch the free webinar), indicate that much of sustainability is driven by legislation and compliance.  Much is motivated by the low-hanging fruit of efficiency.  All need to continue making a profit as they look toward their own sustainability strategies in meeting the COP21 goals.

So, let’s imagine three scenarios:

The US actively works to negate COP21

Donald Trump has both promised to withdraw from US commitments and said he’ll keep an “open mind”.  Key appointees could dismantle legislative, regulatory and physical infrastructure conducive to COP21.  Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO, has controversial views toward climate change, as does EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, with stated preference for state’s authority.  Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, advocated abolishing the Department of Energy.  These appointments could allocate resources away from renewables in favor of fossil fuels, minimize pollution prevention and ignore other externalities.  The US may set the tone for global leaders, political and corporate, to revert to a “me first” mentality.  Collaboration goes by the wayside and instead short-termism, competition, and Industrial Era industries and economics continue unabated.

COP21 gets piecemeal implementation

Certain aspects of COP21 are clearly beneficial to countries and businesses both near and long term.  Increasingly shareholders and stakeholders demand action to counter climate change as risk management for physical threats, ratings, prices, reputation, production and regulation (McKinsey&Co, July 2015).  Even Goldman Sachs is aware of the threat of stranded assets (The New Oil Order).  Corporate and political leaders such as Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon (all with probable roles in the Trump administration) could base decisions to protect balance sheets for automotive, battery, insurance companies and the like.  Whether we’re globally unable or unwilling to take a systems thinking approach, at least some aspects of COP21 will be accepted to meet specific goals.

COP21 begins meeting its goals!

Many in the UK and abroad were horrified with Brexit, predicting doom for the British economy.  Yet, the UK’s economy slowed less than predicted, and in fact grew.  Might US election results be more globally benign than doomsayers anticipate?  The US and China came together to make the Paris Agreement work, a rare and important point of accord.  Both will want to maintain their role as leaders. China in particular will maintain its dominance among developing countries, not to be magnanimous but because it serves China’s interests to continue improving fuel efficiency, pollution reduction, consolidating a lead in sustainable technology manufacturing for itself and the rest of the world.

Regardless the outcome for 2017, CSE’s role in training sustainability practitioners helps ensure corporate strategies are based on understanding the global politics.  CSE’s research and reporting furthers its commitment to systems thinking in sustainability training for corporate executives and sustainability managers worldwide.

To cultivate sustainability within your organization, one that includes understanding the fluid, global political context, attend one of our Certified Sustainability Practitioner (CSR) Programs offered this year:

• Houston, TX, February 23-24, 2017,
• Toronto, Ontario, March 27-28, 2017
• New York, NY, May 25-26, 2017

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