Dispatch from Davos: How Leaders Can Shape a Sustainable World

The snow-clad mountains in Davos are greener than usual, and call attention to the fact that climate change is now a climate emergency. Industry leaders need to translate the traditional notion of business profitability to create a larger social impact

Updated: Jan 23, 2020 01:42:36 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

I am back at the annual meetup of world leaders, activists and think tanks here at World Economic Forum meet in Davos, to take stock and deliberate on our future. What struck me is that the usual snow-clad Alps have shades of green. Clearly, Davos is warmer this year, and perhaps a symbolic message that 'climate change' is an understatement…this is a ‘climate emergency’ and we need to act now.

‘Move over discussions, act now’ is a constantly resonating theme at Davos. The underlying message in all my conversations with leaders here is to focus our energy towards solving the sustainability problem. To anyone who thinks that this urgency to safeguard our environment is uncalled for, here is an eye-opener—according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period. 2019 concluded a decade of exceptional global warming. Retreating ice and melting glaciers, quite close to where I am right now, are both alarming realities of the world we live in. The fear of this planet’s annihilation is not unfounded.

As responsible industry leaders, we need to tackle the sustainability challenge first hand. In the interest of our own survival, we need to look beyond immediate, short-term gains and focus on the role our organisation plays in an inter-dependent, connected world. We need to adapt our thinking to formulate a vision that ensures outcomes around the triple bottom line of social, environmental and financial performance. This would require concerted efforts, outlining an inclusive approach with all stakeholders.

The focus needs to shift from tracking the economic growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to mapping our country’s progress on the ESG standards that encompass the Environmental, Social and Governance parameters of an economy. The thrust on people, planet and then profits, is the most bankable strategy for businesses to ensure meaningful existence in the age of digital transformation and the reason is simple— there is no business on a dead planet.

As business leaders, we cannot wait for governments and policymakers to set things right—we must make the triple bottom line work. While that is an impetus, it is upon us —the individuals, organisations, communities, society, and global citizens at large, to play a role in shaping a sustainable planet. For example, those of us from the technology industry can harness the power of big data, artificial intelligence and quantum computing to solve ‘climate change’ problems. We can minimise our carbon footprint, tap into renewable energies and adopt various effective ways of making a cleaner and greener planet.

With climate risks looming large, industry leaders need to translate the traditional notion of business profitability to create a larger social impact. Not only do we have to integrate sensitivity into our approach, but we also need to also re-imagine, re-evaluate and re-structure our business models. Going by recent reports, firms with a better ESG record than their peers produced higher three-year returns, were more likely to become high-quality stocks, less likely to have large price declines, and were less likely to go bankrupt.

Implementing 'recycle, re-use and reduce' strategy; shifting focus on ensuring stakeholder interest; adopting decisive policy frameworks and regulatory requirements; and marketing ‘green’ products and services at a premium, are some of the key measures for a successful sustainability framework.

It is a cause of grave concern that in spite of early warnings and guidelines around sustainability frameworks for future global economies, we have failed to act in unison. I take heart in the islands of success that are happening at an individual or country level, but this will need the entire human race to come together for a common cause - defending our very survival.

The author is MD and CEO of Tech Mahindra.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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