Endurability, not just durability, is the defining issue of the coming decades.
Over the past ten years, a growing and amplifying awareness of ecological concerns has emerged. Some facts are no longer just a warning of an imminent threat, but a situation of life on earth whose parameters are vastly different from the standard on which the comfort of industrialized countries was established:
As per a 2013 publication in Nature by a team of international scientists, "The Pliocene-Pleistocene transition: an expanded database, new analyses, and a revised age model," the analysis of CO2 data from glacial and marine sediment cores has shown that CO2 levels during the Pliocene era (around 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago) were significantly elevated compared to any other time in the last three million years but did not exceed 400 ppm.
According to an article published in the journal Nature in 2004 by a team of scientists from the United States, France, and Denmark: "High-resolution record of Northern Hemisphere climate extending into the last interglacial period," the analysis of CO2 data from Greenland ice cores has led to the conclusion that CO2 levels during the last interglacial period (about 129,000 to 116,000 years ago) were comparable to current levels, but never rose 300 ppm.
Based on a 2018 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team of scientists from the United States and China, "Evidence for early Holocene ultra-low CO2 concentrations," analysis of CO2 data from glacier cores reveals that CO2 levels during the Holocene era (approximately 11,700 years ago to present) were similar to current levels, but never surpassed 300 ppm.
What distinguishes these 3 analyses: they were all conducted using different methods and cores. What ties them together: they converge to highlight that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere were not as high as they are today in the past 3 million years, and that the current CO2 levels are unprecedented in the recent history of the Earth.
This increase in CO2 levels is primarily due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and is a major contributor to global warming and climate change. According to the Global Monitoring Laboratory, they average 419 parts per million (ppm) in 2022. Moreover, the world population is projected to reach 10.8 billion by 2100, with its implications on resource consumption, land use for infrastructure, housing, etc., this results in an impact on climate due to human activities and what it portends for social and societal concerns.
Furthermore, air pollution has become one of the leading environmental causes of death globally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 7 million deaths occur each year due to air pollution.
Right before our eyes, our world is losing biodiversity with the estimated number of threatened plant and animal species numbering around 1 million, especially in the upcoming decades, which has never happened before in human history according to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Not to mention that over the past decade since 2010, the world has seen a net loss of 4.7 million hectares of forests per year, with deforestation estimated at 10 million hectares each year, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
The first reality to recognize is that these few striking facts (because there are others) are not the characteristic of the world we risk leaving to future generations; they have become the characteristic of today's world.
The challenge today is not about lasting. It's about enduring.
Endurability, meaning sustainability under extreme conditions and constraints, is the challenge that the world is posing to humanity at present, not for later, not if nothing is done in the future, but right now and for the upcoming decades.
The essence of Endurability is to build resilience.
When it comes to endurability, what truly enables it cannot be limited to the international acronym that designates Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria, which generally constitute the three pillars of extra-financial analysis, whose ultimate goal is to address the financial community, with what this may entail in terms of an exclusive framework of interpretation, and therefore bias.
Endurability requires a more inclusive approach. It means having to master a deep understanding of all the factors inherent in the ecosystem where the system must perform, to regulate its positive and negative impact on that ecosystem, beyond just the system's own interest. This necessarily involves a worldview guided not by a specific community, whether financial or otherwise, but by a wide range of considerations, concerns, and challenges, addressing the interests of the greatest number, such as sovereignty, whether it be energy, industrial, digital or protective for security and defense.
This also necessarily includes cultural considerations, whether in the fields of art, science, education, tradition, or customs. It also encompasses substantial state-related, geopolitical, and even geo-strategic aspects, whether in the realm of institutions, laws, regulations, or justice, at the scale of nations or even the world.
The best translation to date of all these factors is that of the United Nations, characterized by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Endurability is, in essence, made up of a complex blend of internal and external factors, more or less predictable, more or less complex, that determine for any system, any organizational model, its ability to withstand trends, endure over time, and overcome constraints and resource limitations to create resilience.
Viability is a foundation for Endurability.
Every model, whether it be business or otherwise, has an "expiration date" by default. If the goal of longevity is to push back the deadline of this expiration date, not all sustainability strategies are endurable, and not all endurable strategies are viable.
In the environmental context we currently face, the viable endurability strategy is the very essence of the meaning of "sustainability". It is the strategy that all other strategies must be aligned with, contribute to, and without which any other strategy will only result in temporary, perishable outcomes and ultimately lead to increased fragility for the ecosystem in which they occur.
A viable endurability strategy is one that enables us to escape the default phenomenon of planned obsolescence for as long as possible, which exists unintentionally for all systems, models, and businesses. It is the strategy that enables us to extend the limits of preservation, not without change, not at any cost, but in a responsible and equitable manner, that is, without sacrificing the sustainability and viability of any other life or thing.
Specifically considering the environmental dimension, a new equation to solve is posed:
- How to balance its growth capacity with that of renewable natural resources, as well as with the capacity of artificially regenerable natural resources through technical and technological means to build a self-sufficient chain, according to virtuous circular approaches?
- How to decouple its growth capacity from non-renewable and non-artificially regenerable natural resources, as well as from non-natural resources that have a negative impact on the ecosystem in which the model is a stakeholder?
This challenge is on par with the issues we face in today's world and what lies ahead in the coming decades.
Could another strategy besides endurability ultimately be a good strategy?
Could a strategy that doesn't allow for endurance, or that would allow for it in an unsustainable and irresponsible way, be good?
The orchestration of an endurability strategy requires breaking away from established and conventional modes of operation and thought processes, influenced by the "divide and conquer" philosophy we were taught in school: dividing the problem into several independent manageable sub-problems that can be solved recursively, and whose combined solutions result in a global solution to the initial problem.
The reason is simple.
The sub-problems to be solved are not independent, but interdependent with one another. Solutions to each sub-problem, thought of and/or implemented in isolation, pose a major risk of worsening the initial problem as a whole.
Yet, whether it be universities with discipline-specific curricula, businesses with department-based work organizations, or governments with a ministry for each domain, this logic of breaking down a problem into several manageable sub-themes independently, because of their supposed intrinsic independence, is a social and mental norm.
The current complexity of our world makes our siloed organizational modes and linear thinking one of the biggest threats to endurability.
Endurability is the seed of a deep industrial revolution that gives meaning to one of humanity's greatest opportunities.
To give birth to a new form of economy, based on innovations that will serve the interests of the majority without jeopardizing the future, a necessary condition for durability.
To give birth to a new way of life, by anchoring economic action in its benefits, not for some at the expense of others, but for society and the environment as a whole, a necessary condition for longevity.
Enduring the Test of Time: from Obsolescence to Endurability.
Having a viable endurability strategy is therefore ultimately a matter of long-term outlook: a strategic vision.
It's a strategy that underlies the foundation of viability and endurance against all odds, particularly extreme challenges such as wars, natural disasters, resource scarcity or economic instability, all while contributing to maintaining, regenerating, or growing what creates the value that the company is trading with.
In fact, the strategy has never been and should never be anything other than serving such a purpose.
For a business, having a viable endurability strategy is serving the inseparable part of a living ecosystem of which it is a part, considering all forms of life, in all dimensions, to fulfill its reason for being.
While many companies have a "Sustainability Office" and a reason for being, few are truly equipped with such a strategy.
Many have a strategy that is in reality just a series of tactics repeated as much as possible, allowing them to navigate by sight based on the definition of a future limited to the grid of understanding of an era, trend, or mood.
Few are those who define their strategy outside of the present moment, projecting themselves into the accomplishment of a greater purpose that will determine how the company can endure against all odds and cross generations, continuing to exist because what it does and how it does it would become irrevocably programmed to endure.
The endurability of the company is the business strategy: they are synonymous or pleonasms. When this is not the case, both are diminished.
Any company, especially those whose size has become critical and essential to a country's scale, must define its strategic approach to endurability because its responsibility is all the greater for the challenge it represents at the level of society in which it operates, as it grows. With great power comes great responsibility.
The future of economic value lies in Endurabilty.
Often mistreated because reduced to the goal of making profits with too little equitable redistribution within itself, the company remains nonetheless a vital organ of any society.
The company cannot be built without consciousness and responsibility for the devastating and destructive effects that its choices can have in the present and for future generations.
It cannot be constructed on the exploitation of natural resources without concern for the impact that this exploitation can have over time.
It cannot base its existence on the blind commercialization of a product that inevitably leads to harm to human life or destruction of terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
It cannot develop through the implementation of working conditions that result in increased inequality and disparity of opportunities among citizens.
It cannot disassociate itself from intentional actions aimed at promoting the rights and place of women in society. The company is one of the lungs of any society without which it is not possible to live for long.
It is therefore undeniably and inevitably responsible for the future of our societies to a degree that exceeds its sales and profits. It is not solely the property of its shareholders.
The way the company plays its role in society is fundamental to the elevation of any society for its own benefit. The company is intertwined with the society it depends on and serves for its development, which in turn provides nourishment for growth.
Its life is intertwined with the citizens who are all stakeholders in the ecosystem it needs to function, because they are customers, employees, or may become so, or because they are close to those who already are or will become.
The company is bound to its employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, and stakeholders in society such as schools, local businesses, real estate developers, and others, which it participates in supporting, strengthening, growing or deteriorating, according to the principles that govern its strategy for existence and persistence. So, directly involved with all the ills of society that it participates in mitigating, curing, or amplifying, according to the values it erects and especially reveals through its actions.
The excellence of the company is that of its viable endurability strategy, considering that such a strategy only makes sense if it creates wealth whose redistribution multiplies its value, without ever destroying the ecosystem it depends on to create it endurably.
Inventing viable and endurable business models is perhaps the greatest and most exciting innovation challenge of our century, to bring forth the economic value system of tomorrow, that of endurability development.
This article was published in The Hamilton Mann Conversation website and in french on Harvard Business Review France.