According to UN projections, 2050 will dawn with over 9.5 billion people on the planet. The very good news about that situation is that prosperity is pulling more people out of poverty than ever before in man’s history. This means that nearly 40% of the 2050 population will be in emerging middle classes around the globe. Again, to put that into numbers, the middle classes in the world will reach nearly 4 billion people, versus 1.2 billion today.
This outcome from prosperity means that 4 billion people will have the expectation of receiving many of the same things that the middle classes of today receive: cars, smartphones, flat screen TVs, more clothes, food selections, and more. This will translate to a dramatic increase in consumption, with the greatest growth in consumption in the ASEAN countries.
Too, mankind has already reached a new “first” in its history. For the first time, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. In fact, the projection is that the emerging middle classes will continue to be a primary demographic of urban population, with people pouring into the cities, seeking the necessary opportunity of prosperity that the middle classes desire. Most futurists say that the cities of 2050 have not been built yet, and yet they must be built to accommodate this human flow rate, with the necessary infrastructure, support, and jobs to continue to build this burgeoning middle class.
The bad news is that many planetary-watch organizations predict that planet Earth is not capable of providing the necessary resources to meet this demand. This is what I would call a “planetary crisis.” We have already reached the capacity level for food, water, and energy and production capacity. The great cities of today, particularly in the ASEAN countries, are bulging with capacity and overburdening the infrastructure of the cities. And many companies are beginning to realize that the unlimited supplies of raw materials that existed in the last century don’t exist now, and clearly won’t exist in the future.
Much has been done to rally NGOs, governments, and companies to act, and some companies have acted in a way that shows they realize the impact that they can have on addressing global problems. The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) initiative has had an impact, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) has rallied nations to act in a positive and integrated way. Even Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, has helped dramatically increase the awareness of this crisis, and the dangers associated with short-term thinking about investments in changes in technologies and organizational strategies.
In some cases, some companies got it from the beginning. Companies like Whole Foods and IKEA have long been considered the true “conscious” capitalist organizations. From their beginning, they were driven by a mission that embraced ethical, social and environmental values, and were still managed in a way that allowed them to be financially successful. This has only polished their brand and allowed them to reap the benefits of a bond of trust with all stakeholders. Although a few thousand companies around the globe have acted accordingly, the vast majority of enterprises remain stuck in the paradigm of the past. The sense of urgency is still missing.
This is the frustrating part. There are far too many organizations that continue to ask, “Is this crisis real?” or, in addition, “Will changing my strategy and technologies put me out of business?” Others seem to think that the future will take care of itself and someone else will solve the problem. And keep in mind the size of the global population—in the U.S. alone, there are nearly 8 million registered businesses with payrolls! As clear and present a danger as projection statistics show, why do we continue to argue and debate over climate change, global warming, carbon fuels, sustainable farming, and worse, the profitability of the necessary change?
Frankly, unless companies act today, they will be out of business in less than 20 years. It isn’t about profitability alone, but rather fundamental organizational viability and sustainability.
As Al Gore said at the 2006 TED Conference:
“This business of investing on a short-term horizon excluding the consideration of (planetary) sustainability factors is one of the central driving forces that are destroying the planet’s environment.”
This crisis is real—very real—and individual companies and organizations are a real solution to solving the looming crisis. And unless they act now, there is no question that the future will take care of itself—these companies will be out of business.