This essay featured in the December 2022 edition of The Catalyst, The B Team's monthly newsletter. Learn more and subscribe to receive leadership insights, advocacy opportunities and conversations between business and civil society leaders exploring a better way of doing business for people and planet.
Looking ahead to 2023, I am thinking about how we might navigate our way toward a future in which we truly love where we live and work. What will it take to safeguard the natural world, create humane workplaces and strengthen the fabric of our communities?
As I draft this note, negotiations are at a critical moment at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), our last, best chance to deliver an ambitious set of targets to reverse biodiversity loss and achieve a “Paris Agreement for nature.” Lifting up the voices and concerns of developing nations and indigenous communities — stewards of more than 80% of the world’s biodiversity — is imperative to the process. Those most impacted must have a hand in shaping the outcomes. Simply put: without nature, there is no viable future for humanity.
CBD COP15 comes on the heels of COP27 in Egypt and the G20 summit in Indonesia last month. COP27 produced imperfect outcomes, but there was positive energy and real momentum around climate action. In some ways world leaders and negotiators are collaborating more than ever before — largely out of necessity, given the urgent challenges we collectively face. Yet we continue to fall short of what is needed to secure our planet and populations for generations to come.
How do we resolve this predicament? I find myself thinking about this late at night.
It will take leadership, for one, but not the type to which we are frustratingly accustomed. The time for “know-it-all” leadership is over. That old leadership playbook has directly led to serious and irreversible breakdowns in our natural and social worlds. Our children, as well as our employees, increasingly question how they will survive in a world so divided and deplete of personal and planetary wellbeing. We can and must choose a different path — if not for us, then at least for the next generation. And doing so requires a new leadership playbook that embraces radical collaboration, inclusion and transparency.
I believe in my heart that we are on the cusp of breakthroughs that will help us deliver the world we want and need. It’s necessary to acknowledge disappointment and setbacks, yes, but let’s do so whilst celebrating progress and uplifting the many beacons of hope that still light the world. There is a big hill to climb, but it is scalable. Together, let’s hasten our ascent.
Successfully navigating an uncertain future will take all of us: the private sector, elected officials, civil society and more. Governments must set the ambition, reset incentives and “right the rules” to best position business to innovate and responsibly align its actions and investment. Encouragingly, business is playing a productive role at CBD COP15, pushing for some of the most ambitious biodiversity targets. Civil society is essential for holding both government and business to account — and ensuring this transition is just and inclusive. When we bring all stakeholders together, better outcomes are possible. Without collaboration across sectors, we will fail to achieve a net-zero, human- and nature-positive future.
In this spirit, The B Team co-hosted Europe’s Energy Earthshot in October, a three-day design process involving 200+ multi-sector stakeholders committed to accelerating a just and clean energy transformation in Europe and beyond. The B Team and Virgin Unite, under the bold leadership of B Team leader Jean Oelwang, are catalyzing cross-sector commitments to create a more humane world of work. Known as 100% Human at Work, this network has engaged 500+ organizations (and counting) across six continents and fostered collaboration that prioritizes human wellbeing.
An old saying comes to mind: “Nothing about us without us.” We must close the gender, racial, ethnic, generational and global gaps in our public dialogue, policymaking processes and leadership circles. I suspect I’m not the only one still reeling from the “family picture” of leaders at COP27 last month. Where were the women, the young people and the indigenous leaders, all of whom possess untapped wisdom and are disproportionately harmed by the interconnected climate and nature crises? It is imperative that we update this picture to reflect the world in which we live. Without changes at the negotiating table, we can only expect more of the same. We must change who to change how.
I’m proud of the many B Team leaders who are walking the walk at their companies. IKEA and The Body Shop, for example, are giving young people and next-generation leaders a voice in the leadership room. Greyston, a New York-based B-Corp led by CEO Joseph D. Kenner, has pioneered “open hiring,” a radically inclusive process that brings people into the workforce who otherwise may not have gotten a job. Chobani, led by founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, joined the Worker Financial Wellness Initiative earlier this year as part of its first cohort of companies, committing to assessing its workforce’s financial wellness and creating opportunities to strengthen long-term resilience.
It takes a journey to achieve lasting change. These inclusive leaders are showing the way.
Transparency is foundational to restoring the trust that is alarmingly absent in today’s world. Radical transparency is important not just for corporate accountability but also for public policymaking. Case in point: the more than $1.8 trillion in government subsidies that harm the environment. We are, quite literally, investing public money in our own demise. Part of the reason why reform is so slow is because these subsidies are often hard to identify. Into the light, I say.
Certain governments and private sector players still cling to “business as usual,” engaging in shady advocacy tactics that take us further from, rather than toward, a just, net-zero and nature-positive world. In a world of low trust, it is imperative that we double down on transparency.
B Team leader Emmanuel Faber, chair of the International Sustainability Standards Board, is carrying the transparency torch at CBD COP15 in Montréal. The ISSB is developing a global baseline of sustainability disclosure standards — a common language enabling investors to better assess companies’ risks and opportunities — and plans to develop guidance for more transparency on natural ecosystems once climate disclosure rules are published next year.
“We cannot blame the system. We are the system,” Emmanuel reminds us. “For a more resilient future, each of us has to become aware of our responsibility.”
The most precious gift of all
Let me end by wishing each of you a regenerative holiday season. As another turbulent year comes to a close, rest and reflection are long overdue — for all of us. I invite you to use this special time to reflect on how, in 2023, we might meaningfully engage with people we typically don‘t, and include in leadership conversations and planning processes those too frequently left behind.
And may we give the young people in our lives the most precious gift of all: our steadfast commitment that we will do our best to restore their trust in us — and restore their hope in a future of possibility and opportunity.
Wishing you and your families Happy Holidays and a hopeful New Year.