It’s time for bold action from businesses and world leaders

Sir David King, the director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, said: "Victim of Success should be compulsory reading for all people with influence on the future direction of society, from world leaders and policy makers to teachers and voters.

The time has come to support real change.” The concept of my new book, Victim of Success, arose from frustration at the glacial pace of progress in moving beyond the rhetoric to real action in building a sustainable future for society. Explaining where the world is on the wrong track is relatively easy. Explaining what should be done to change it, is

exceedingly hard.

I look forward to a recovery in the world economy, driven, in part, by investment in renewable energy and green technologies. The growing appreciation of the dangers of climate change will support substantial green stimulus measures. This boom may last for several years. The risk is that the boom will be based upon superficial changes, rather than the deeprooted transformation that is required, in both the infrastructure of society and people’s behaviour. This timidity to take

on the challenge of forcing real change will lead the world from boom to bust in a way that will make the current financial crisis seem insignificant in comparison.

Three problems will come to a head according to the same timetable: climate change, oil depletion and population growth. Climate change will have shifted

from predictions by scientists to real impacts on everyday lives. The world’s insatiable thirst for oil will finally hit the buffers of peak oil capacity. The world’s

increasing population will surpass the capacity of the world market to provide enough food and fuel for everyone.

As people struggle to obtain resources, some countries will descend into anarchy and may collapse into failed states. There could be a domino effect taking down neighbouring countries with regions descending into lawless dystopia. Even countries that are now stable and tolerant will close their borders in an attempt

to remain above the global calamity as the number of climate refugees increases exponentially.

My analysis of a possible future is not scaremongering; it is a cool logical analysis of the course that humankind is on. The argument is easy to understand and hard to dispute with any conviction. The really important argument is about what we do in response to this insight. I have total confidence that it is possible to change

direction and avoid my Armageddon scenario. We have enough technology and knowhow to make the transition. But it is also clear that our plans, so far, are too little, too late. I am optimistic of what can be done to alter the future if we show

respect for the Earth and learn to achieve a sustainable balance in the way we run society. We need to wean society off fossil fuel, but there are multiple issues to tackle ranging from making aviation sustainable to building cities for people rather than for cars. These are difficult, complex and interconnected issues, but progress is possible if we can persuade people to support real change.

Victim of Success is not a business book, and I crave your indulgence in writing about it in Sustainable Business magazine. The reason I do so, is that business can be a highly effective agent for change – and no one should object to healthy profits going to the leading companies. There are huge opportunities for business – not in the business-as-usual scenario but in leading the changes.

My plea for action throughout society is also a plea to support businesses that are willing to bounce ahead to a sustainable future. There are risks ahead for civilization – and for the companies betting their future on sustainability.

Not all companies will survive the recession. Those that have sufficient turnover to survive in the short term will be set to prosper, provided they understand the

parameters of the Sustainable Revolution. Companies with a long-term horizon have fundamental learning to take on board. By truly understanding the new

paradigm of sustainability, and investing effort to lead change, it will be possible to motor past the competition. Other companies concentrating on squeezing profits out of this year’s results will get caught in regulatory traps and be shunned as green becomes the de rigueur consumer choice.

This is the final lead up to the Copenhagen climate talks. This month will be filled with pleas from NGOs and pressure groups directed at world leaders to agree a deal. We can expect announcements from the politicians. Meanwhile some people will be working on real measures to make a real difference. Those companies writing sustainable business plans should be concentrating on core strategy that enables them to exploit the coming changes. This is not a time for timidity this is the time for bold action by world leaders – and by business.

It’s time for bold action from businesses and world leaders ”

Peter McManners is a visiting executive fellow of Henley Business School of Reading University and author of the book, Victim of Success: Civilization at Risk


Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie