We are in an unprecedented period in Australia as we grapple with the impacts of climate change, social justice issues and a global health crisis, not to mention the roll-on effects on the economy. The inherent relationship between the economy, society and the environment has never been more apparent, and sustainability is now front and centre of people’s minds.
Last week, I attended the UN Global Compact conference, Making Global Goals Local Business, and it could not have come at a better time. The two-day event aimed to highlight how responsible action from local businesses can help create solutions to global challenges, and support the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Virtual and online keynote speakers included Paul Polman, Co-Founder and Chair of Imagine; Kylie Porter, Executive Director of Global Compact Network Australia; Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director of United Nations Global Compact; Ming Long AM, Chair of AMP Capital Funds Limited and Deputy Chair of Diversity Council Australia – and many more.
Discussions struck a balance between the realities of society and the inequality and abuse of our planetary boundaries. Still, there was also genuine optimism for the future amongst some doom and gloom, highlighting the role of connection and collaboration between people and businesses to drive real change. There was much to take away from this forum, but several insights that stood out to me were:
- When it comes to tackling social issues, it’s important to call things for what they are. For example, should we use the term “unconscious bias” or call it out as racism?
- Australia has a long way to go before we achieve gender equality and disappointingly, we are going backwards. The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index ranks Australia at 50th place globally compared to New Zealand, which ranks in 4th place. Leadership comes from the top and 5 of the top 6 countries have female leaders.
- There has been a notable rise in circular economy thinking, an approach to economic development intended to benefit businesses, society and the environment together. With 40-50% of business revenue coming from nature, it’s clear that we need to stop incentivising the destruction of the environment.
- There is a significant opportunity, and dare I say it obligation, for business to go beyond simply “not being bad” and make a real impact. With the push towards organisations being carbon positive, it’s time to think about how we can incentivise regeneration and living infrastructure projects that contribute to the environment and society.
- The cost of inaction is far greater than action – we need to move beyond short term thinking and invest in a sustainable future.
It’s clear that we have reached a critical turning point, and decisive action is crucial if we are to change our global trajectory. Something that sticks in my mind is that many movies about the future depict a broken, devasted planet. It makes me wonder – what can each of us do to create a happier ending for all?