When nations, industries, business leaders and communities began to understand that designing a sustainable future is an economic opportunity – not an economic burden – a pivotal turning point occurred in the global conversation surrounding climate change.
Innovators and influencers realized that building a future that contains clean air and better health, intelligent transportation, livable cities, and energy security will stimulate growth and improve bottom lines. With that understanding—the understanding that sustainability is about constraining the negative (e.g. greenhouse gases) in order to precipitate the positive (e.g. human flourishing) —comes optimism.
In the face of global challenges, optimism is the deliberate choice of living and working out of the deep conviction that humans can come together, in any size and setting, from many different backgrounds, to build a hopeful future. When you examine the bigger picture, it only makes sense that if so many of our problems were caused by our penchant for independence and self-focus, those problems must be addressed with intentional interdependence. Interdependence is the model of health we see at work in the natural world, and for our own sake, it is a model we must replicate.
Every day new investors and stakeholders are recognizing the very real risks that are inherent in the old, carbon-based economy. They have begun to understand that environmental integrity is not a feel-good, second-tier solution; is the prime key to efficiency and profit. Implementing this efficiency through circular designs, by eliminating waste and utilizing cleaner forms of energy is not only good for our environment – but more than that it is good for business.
There is a long journey ahead and we don’t know all the steps that will lead us to our destination.
However, our destination is clear: a decarbonized, highly resilient and collaborative economy. This destination is universally beneficial. It is in the best interest of all people. We will move towards it on different paths, guided by our unique contexts and communities, but in every case, the ability to clearly visualize and articulate our goal is the key to moving forward and requires our best and highest efforts.
The corporate Sustainability Teams featured in this book are giving vision to this future, even as they make it our reality. They are ignoring political noise and distractions, choosing to instead exercise the stubborn optimism that is required to disassemble problems and manufacture solutions from the pieces. Fueled by the creativity of diversity, these groups are changing the role of business in an uncertain future. They are doing this because they know it is in the best interest of their business, their stakeholders, and their customers, at the same time as it is in the best interest of our planet. The benefit imperatives stack up and reinforce each other.
Competition has long been a driving force in human innovation. It will, and should, continue to be so. But in the business of the new economy—a work of profitable restoration—I have found that there is an even more powerful force than rivalry and confrontation: radical collaboration.
We know that the whole is often far greater than the sum of its parts, and in the work of a Sustainability Team (be it a gathering of line workers or entire nations), we see this truth take shape quite tangibly. Behaviors are changed, small actions are multiplied, and ripples become tide-turning waves.
As you learn from these inspiring Sustainability Teams and orchestrate your own, know that collaboration and interdependence are the cornerstones of a real, lasting economy. Take every opportunity to inject transformational optimism into your conversations, and allow the power of interdependence to change the way you think, act, and create.
You will build a future you are proud to pass on to the next generation, but you will not do so alone. Embrace the freedom of this interconnectedness and then go get to work.
We’re counting on you.
Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010-2016)
Founding Partner, Global Optimism