Disabling Governments

Buried ten lines from the bottom of Mike Barry’s excellent blog, he tells us that M&S will be looking at “the role of government in enabling these new business models”.  Does he perhaps mean “disabling” rather than “enabling”?




Don’t get me wrong:  there’s no bigger advocate of business leadership in securing a sustainable world than Forum for the Future, and we’re only too happy both to celebrate the success of a company like M&S (which is indeed remarkable), whilst still urging them on to start doing more of the really difficult stuff.



But how can it still be, in sector after sector, that business leaders continue to find three principal barriers to making a bigger impact: little consumer pull (it was ever thus, and always will be, in my opinion); ignorant and indifferent investors (it was ever thus….); and confused and dysfunctional governments (in terms of regulation, incentivisation, etc).



M&S is seriously intent on addressing the first of those challenges, the consumer, and I’ve no doubt that the next iteration of Plan A will focus on precisely that area.  It’s leaving investors for another day – when M&S clothing is selling again like the fashion hotcake it once was.  That just leaves government.




Interestingly, this was the one headline conclusion that jumped out from Accenture’s new and really interesting “CEO Survey on Sustainability: Architects for a Better World”, which came out on Friday last week, in partnership with the US Global Compac.


The survey indicated that 83% of the 1000 CEOs involved in the survey were of the opinion that more efforts by governments to provide the enabling environment will be critical to the private sector’s ability to advance sustainability.  Specifically, 85% demand clearer policy and market signals to support green growth.


As Peter Lacy, Managing Director for Accenture Sustainability, put it:


“CEOs are clearly disappointed that markets have not aligned with sustainability in the way they had hoped three years ago, and would like to see more action from government to create a more enabling environment.  But the good news is that they have not lost faith in the role of business to drive sustainability.”


I totally agree.  But this is not a one way street, with government solely responsible for today’s regrettable state of affairs.  Companies know that this is not an easy area for even the most progressive of them.  Their Public Affairs teams are usually bit-part players when it comes to lobbying for the more sustainable business outcomes, and sometimes (I’m sorry to say) spend much of their time undermining in practice the theoretical ambitions of their company’s own sustainability strategy.





So let’s get real about this.  As an essential part of the search for new business models, haven’t we got to think very creatively about creating a different kind of pressure on government?  Why not, for instance, bring together the CEOs of all the progressive companies in any sector, analyse the hell out of the way in which government today is predominantly in the business of disabling rather than enabling, put that analysis into the public domain for wider consultation, and then work with civil society organisations to win around Ministers and regulators to the art of framing markets to deliver more (rather than less) sustainable outcomes?


That would indeed be a new business model!


Written by Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director of Forum for the Future www.forumforthefuture.org

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