Sustainability Amidst the Megatrends and a VUCA World
The tone of the event was set by the keynote address of Professor Zeger Van Der Wal, Associate Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore. Professor Van Der Wal began his presentation with a curious quote by Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Of course I believe in free will. Do we have a choice?”
His speech emphasized that businesses should not view sustainability as a choice, but rather as a necessity to succeed in the 21st Century. He further expressed that businesses must be mindful of eight global megatrends in the private sector: The first of them is that “All is Networked” – we are now at the age where almost everyone and everything are connected through enabling technology, social media, big data, and the Internet of Things. The second megatrend is what he called “Forever Young” wherein he focused on demographic transition within the workforce, global fertility rates, and ageing trends.
The next two megatrends are what he called “More with Less” and “Ultraurbanization”. More with Less is having constraints from public debts and fiscal pressures and ultra-modernization is that we are in era of having megacities as nodes of growth and governance.
“Great Expectations” is the fifth megatrend wherein society is driven by rampant individualism and there are demands for unlimited transparency. The sixth megatrend, “Economic Interconnectedness” is a result from convergence, contagion, and regulation.
He also explained that we cannot discount the fact of “Global Power Shifts”, the seventh megatrend. This is particularly noticeable in emerging economies, particularly in Asia, surpassing developed countries in growth and power. And lastly, the eight megatrend is “More from Less” wherein society today demand more from our depleting natural resources which results to a stress in our environment and climate change.
Professor Van Der Wal then presented the concept of VUCA, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, and stressed the importance for businesses to align with a bigger purpose beyond profit gain.
To give better context, he defined a “culture of sustainability” as being one wherein “organizational members hold shared assumptions and beliefs about the importance of balancing economic efficiency, social equity, and environmental accountability”. To achieve this, businesses must move beyond the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), towards Creating Shared Value (CSV). He asserted that moving forward, businesses must integrate sustainability into their culture in order to take advantage of new, well-paying, customers, to attract and retain motivated, highperforming employees, and to gain an even better reputation.
Towards the end, he highlighted the link between culture and leadership, stating that leaders set the mold in creating a culture of sustainability, and that combining this with an effective multi-stakeholder engagement strategy will lead for a company’s strong foundation on sustainability.