The Business of Tomorrow: Are you up for it?

Anna Triponel

November 12, 2021

Anna Triponel | November 2021

Opening remarks delivered by Anna Triponel for the panel: ‘Circular Economy: prosperity in a world of finite resources’ at The British Library’s Start-up Day 2021 for entrepreneurs and early-stage business owners.

Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I’m just back from Glasgow, and there cannot be a better time to be discussing the bedrock of sustainability in business, and I’d like to congratulate the British Library and Santander for making this their number one theme.

Where will you be in 30 years’ time?

The world of 2050 will look radically different to our world today. And the role of business within the economy will be almost unrecognisable.

We will have a circular economy:

  • The principles of reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish and recycle will be the name of the game for companies
  • We will have new business models, diversified materials, closed loops across value chains
  • We wouldn’t dream of using virgin, non-renewable materials
  • And materials will be traceable, renewable and recycled

We will also have regenerative and equitable food systems:

  • We will have a regenerative global food system – that doesn’t just avoid harm, but actively restores nature and reverses previous damage
  • The way we grow food will respect biodiversity, and be carbon neutral
  • Consumers will truly value food, changing their behaviors to minimize waste.
  • Unavoidable waste along the food value chain will be redistributed, or used in materials or energy as part of a circular bioeconomy

I know what you’re thinking.

Sounds lovely, Anna, but a tad unrealistic. Probably time for you to come back to reality.

But this isn’t how I’m saying the future will be.

This is how governments are saying the future should look like – take a look at the EU and its new Green Deal.

This is what companies are saying the future should look like – take a look at what CEOs have said as part of WBCSD’s 2050 Vision.

This is how civil society is saying the future should look like – take a look at the new State of Climate Actions report by the World Resources Institute and many more.

And this is already where we are headed, with new regulation, new investor demands and enhanced consumer pressure.

Why? Why can’t we just continue business as usual – which feels a lot more comfortable than this radical transformation of business we’ve been hearing about?

Because what we’ve being taught about business today does not equip us for the world of tomorrow. Worse, it makes us part of the problem, whether we like it or not.

The world has warmed already by 1.1 degrees, as compared to preindustrial levels. We are on track for warming of between 3.3°C and 5.7°C. A report released this week by Climate Action Tracker shows that even with all the promises made by governments before and during COP26, we are heading for 2.4°C of warming.

Anyone who has read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on 1.5 degrees knows that already warming to 1.5 degrees will be tough going, and anything above that is actually very hard for us to imagine, in terms of fall out on human health, human migration, rise of famines and conflicts, extreme weather conditions, uninhabitable conditions, and the list goes on.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report released this year shows us that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century is still possible, but it will require rapid, immediate, and economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, as well as the removal of carbon from the atmosphere.

By 2050 – at the latest, we need to have stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that Earth can naturally absorb through its ecosystems. What this means is that by 2030, we need to have halved our greenhouse gas emissions. This means a radically different way of doing things, than how we’ve done them until now. A radical transformation of business.

And add to this biodiversity loss (global wildlife populations shrank by 68% between 1970 and 2016, and we are on course to lose nearly one million species to extinction by 2050).

Add to this our global material footprint (for instance, plastic waste is expected to grow from 260 million tons per year in 2016 to 460 million tons by 2030 – nearly half of that from packaging).

Add to this the massive inequality and important vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has underscored and amplified.

Ok, so this is grim, and we may be feeling a little depressed, or hopeless, or angry, or lethargic, about what is happening to the world around us.

There’s a now famous joke that helped all of us who were in Glasgow for COP26 bring some degree of levity to the situation: a man commits to phasing out his alcohol consumption by 2050. He will continue to drink as normal but then he promises to reduce his consumption in 2049, when he turns 101.

The joke struck a chord because, obviously, taking action later will be – quite simply – too late. Really what matters is the next ten years.

Personally, I find this very empowering, and humbling in equal measure. Each of us here today are living at a truly historic time, where our actions – as consumers, as voters, and for you in the room – as business leaders – will impact the quality of life on this planet for years and years to come. Some even say, the future survival of humanity on the planet.

So, let’s come back to the basics here.

As a business owner – sure, you can continue business as usual. You probably have a few more years before regulation and external pressures start to become too uncomfortable. You may be thinking: I’d prefer to make my business profitable, and get off the ground, before I start to think about sustainability. Or: I’ll wait for others to pave the way in terms of new ways of sourcing and I can ride on the wave later. Sure.

But ask yourself, why would you build a business on a model that has a shelf life? A clear use-by date? How could you not, starting out today, want to build a business that can scale and grow into the future, and be here in 2050 to tell the story of how you started?

Every day, I work with large multinationals that are looking at re-imagining their business models, that are pivoting how they do things to be ready for the future of business. You have a unique opportunity that you can do that now. You can shake yourself free from the ‘business as usual’ and already be in the ‘business of tomorrow’ – no transformation of your business required, but instead play a role in the wider transformation of the sector you’re operating in.  

You are all innovative thinkers and business creators, I have no doubt that you can do it.  

Let’s hear now from three founders who have done just that.

Natasha Stelle started to forage ingredients in her own allotment to turn them into cordials. She started selling them at her local farmers market, the idea took off and Urban Cordial was born.

Niklas Vila Karpe has embarked are on a journey to lower the impact of humans on the planet by instigating a culture of change in the apparel world. He co-founded two lives with Tina Lilienthal, a “dream come true” in his words

And Terence Chung decided with Kelly Yee to turn a spare room into an experiment room to turn fruit by-products into sustainable cosmetics. Two important challenges tackled through one business, Fruu.

So now let’s delve into discussion.

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