We are living in a time of crisis. As cascading effects of the climate emergency begin to impact societies and economies around the world at an ever quicker and more intense pace, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are urgent challenges meeting us at every corner. Concurrently, there are just as many opportunities to recalibrate, rewire, and reinvent the way we do business so that we can become a part of addressing the climate crisis together. Businesses now find themselves in a precarious situation amidst such transformations, yet they are also in a position of unique opportunity. As the holiday season unfolds, it is essential that we take this time to truly reevaluate our roles as business and organizational changemakers. This Christmas, we at Prosperous Planet encourage both deep reflection and a daringness to begin imagining what business in the Anthropocene–i.e., business that is tailored to the needs of people and planet–means for companies ready to act as agents of change in a society in dire need of a deeper paradigm shift.
To better understand the critical position business leaders navigating the challenges of the Anthropocene now found themselves in, we turn to the state of the world: approximately 1,000,000 species are at risk of becoming extinct by the end of this century if current trends continue unabated, over 200 million humans globally are estimated to become displaced inside their own countries due to the climate crisis by 2050, and it has been estimated that impacts of the climate crisis will collectively cost companies approximately $1.3 trillion by 2026 (Brondizio et al.; IRC; Celestin). Amidst such immense upheaval, consumption and production patterns have been at a record high. The global material footprint–an indicator of the total amount of raw materials extracted from Earth’s ecological systems to meet consumer demands–rose from 43 billion metric tons in 1990 to 54 billion tons in 2000 to 92 billion tons in 2017 (United Nations). This represents an increase of 70% since 2000 and an increase of 113% since 1990 (United Nations). Consumption typically increases during the holidays, and in the United States alone, the National Retail Federation has predicted that 2021 holiday retail sales will be the highest on record with an estimation that sales during November and December will grow between 8.5% and 10.5% over 2020 (NRF). In Sweden, the country Prosperous Planet calls home, Christmas spending this year is estimated to increase by approximately 3% (HUI).
Although predominant production and consumption patterns currently place immense stress on our social-ecological systems–particularly during the holiday season–this does not need to be the case. If business leaders act proactively and implement science-based transformations to business models that promote transparency throughout value chains, circularity, and decarbonization while innovating and targeting novel business opportunities, we can build an economically successful holiday season without straining Earth’s resources. Indeed, to address social-ecological breakdown both during and outside of the holiday season, we must address the systems producing such breakdown. Considering this, there is a wealth of opportunities for organizations ready to take bold actions that will defend our planet while ensuring continued economic success beyond breakeven sustainability.
Regardless, it is still often difficult as a company to abandon or radically alter holiday business opportunities such as Black Friday; from contending with lowered prices bolstered by competitors to meeting investors’ expectations to defending market share, rethinking profitable events in today’s rapid, ever-evolving economy may seem like an impossibility. However, alternative ways of approaching Black Friday and other business endeavors during the holiday season do not necessarily need to also damage business revenue. Any individual day or period of sales is, at the end of the day, not what keeps a business dynamic and thriving; it is the relationships between a company, its customers, and the people and natural systems that it relies upon that determine sustainable success. Growth does not need to rely on unsustainable practices. Rather, a business can grow by virtue of the quality of its offerings, reinventing old business models and redefining metrics of success.
We are already seeing companies from an array of industries making decisions that preserve the value of the holiday season, protect the environment, ensure social sustainability, and maintain business success. From choosing to forego revenue on Black Friday while still maintaining a profitable business model to offering to buy back used products from customers to driving education-based initiatives that encourage customers to shop mindfully with a focus on sustainability and mental health, there are an infinite number of ways companies can recalibrate their strategies for success and brand loyalty during the holidays. With the wealth of opportunities before us, why not choose a path for growth that rests on increasing the number of people that turn to your company’s products in the first place while providing them services that repair and renew their purchases when needed? Why not anticipate the economies of tomorrow and engender circularity to save on costs while avoiding waste and environmental degradation? The proposal of such alternative business strategies anchored in sustainability leads to one central question: what draws people to patron a company in the Anthropocene? Increasingly, it is a brand’s purpose, values, and sustainable social-ecological impact that sway consumers’ purchasing decisions as well as the overall images of brands themselves (O’Brien et al.).
Moreover, growth must not be viewed as a purpose, but rather as a means to build a platform where business success within the planetary boundaries is at the center of all services and operations. Growth in such a context means utilizing business as a conduit for providing consumers with durable, transparent, and just products and services that are embedded in circular systems operating within the planetary boundaries. If we pursue and build this vision, shortsighted approaches to profit can be abandoned in preference of proactive, viable business models that are agile in the face of climate-related disruptions to societies.
So, what would this brave (and necessary) new world practically look like during the holiday season? Production and consumption in our vision of a preferable holiday season would place quality over quantity and provide consumers with gifts to be treasured for years to come. Companies and individuals would be proud to know that their holiday production and consumption patterns are sustainable, meaningful, circular, and generative. Business models in such a world would future-proof value creation while ensuring ecological flourishing and the upholding of human rights throughout value chains both during and outside of the holiday shopping season. A favorable brand image would lead to new and strengthened consumer bases flocking to take part in an exciting new vision, and innovative precedents would be established across industries.
Although Christmas has largely become a holiday engulfed by consumerism, proactive, science-based restructuring of the economics surrounding the holiday season has great potential to renew the deeper meaning of this time while ensuring prosperity for businesses, Earth, and those we love and surround ourselves with during the holidays. We challenge business leaders to spend this winter interlude reflecting on and reimagining the immense opportunities before them. Indeed, we need them to. Merry Christmas.
Bronidizio, E. S., et al., editors. IPBES, 2019, Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, https://ipbes.net/global-assessment.
Celestin, Rose. “Climate Change Will Cost Companies $1.3 Trillion by 2026.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 20 Mar. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/rosecelestin/2021/03/05/climate-change-will-cost-companies-13-trillion-by-2026/?sh=1331af3a6cdc.
HUI, 2021, HUIs julprognos 2021, https://hui.se/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/HUIs-julprognos-2021.pdf.
IRC. “The Climate Crisis Is Here: What It Looks like in Numbers.” International Rescue Committee, IRC, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.rescue.org/article/climate-crisis-here-what-it-looks-numbers.
NRF. “NRF Predicts Highest Holiday Retail Sales on Record.” National Retail Federation, National Retail Federation, 27 Oct. 2021, https://nrf.com/media-center/press-releases/nrf-predicts-highest-holiday-retail-sales-record.
O’Brien, Diana, et al. “Purpose Is Everything.” Deloitte Insights, Deloitte, 15 Oct. 2019, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/marketing-and-sales-operations/global-marketing-trends/2020/purpose-driven-companies.html.
United Nations. “Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns.” United Nations, United Nations, 2019, https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2019/goal-12/.