Happy New Year: Corporate sustainability in 2012

Welcome back to the Smarter Business blog to all readers.

I hope you had an enjoyable festive break.

I thought I’d start the year on the blog by doing something risky on the blog: Asking readers for their views on significant events, issues or trends you feel may shape 2012.

This is the blogging equivalent to putting one’s hand out for a high five and very possibly being left hanging…

So to provide something to react against, agree with, or otherwise add to, here’s some stuff on 2011 and 2012 trends below.

Take a look, and add your view. I promise to publish all comments that are not blatant attempts at self-promotion by the writer (sorry, only I get to do that here 🙂

To start you off:

Here’s a link to Ethical Corporation’s look back at 2011 and look forward to 2012.

Here’s a presentation I put together (missing Keystone XL but otherwise hopefully fairly accurate) on 2011.

And here’s an extract from Ethical Corporation’s 2011 review/2012 preview:

2012: future fears

“Uncertainty about the world’s prospects is likely to continue into 2012. The economic situation will continue to be grim, with a double-dip recession threatened. Unemployment will be high and there will be further social unrest.

The environment will continue to be over-exploited. True sustainable business will remain an aspiration.

It is unclear if significant progress will be made to resolve the euro-area crisis. Markets hope that new governments in some of the most affected countries – Greece, Italy, Spain – will be effective, but only time will tell.

Federal debt in the US will also remain a concern, especially as major issues could remain unresolved before the presidential election at the end of the year.

Zsolt Darvas of the Bruegel thinktank says the “share of advanced countries in world output has already declined, but this decline will accelerate”.

However, countries such as China are not ready to take over just yet, in particular because “technological leadership is still in the west,” Darvas says.

Politically, 2012 could see significant change.

As well as those in the US, there will be a clutch of parliamentary and presidential elections: Egypt, France, Iran, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and Venezuela.

Outcomes will range from foregone conclusions to highly unpredictable. Some presidents, such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria, may lose office without the luxury of an election.

Business is likely to come under multiple pressures in 2012, as governments attempt to continue to clean up after the economic and financial crisis.

The G20 – which has taken over from the G8 as the main platform for discussions international economic cooperation – will meet in Mexico.

On the agenda will be issues such as regulation of banks and other financial bodies, dealing with tax havens, streamlining energy markets and fighting corruption. All imply more, rather than less, regulation for companies.

On the environmental agenda, the United Nations Rio+20 conference, in June 2012, will stand out.

The conference will look at what has happened since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, which resulted in a number of global initiatives, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Rio Summit will be followed later in 2012 by the next UN climate summit, in Qatar, which follows on from Durban 2011.

As the economy is still very far from operating within sustainable limits, the Rio+20 delegates are unlikely to conclude that enough progress has been made since 1992.

Rio+20’s stated aim is to “secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development”.

If it will be forthcoming is an open question.”

So there’s some ‘big picture’ issues. What about the specific trends, emerging issues affecting your business/clients/research/policy positions? I know all readers would like to hear your views.

If you are reading this blog, the chances are high that you have some insights to share.

Here’s just a couple of business areas/issues I can see staying high up the agenda, and growing in importance to managers:

Engaged employees: In two senses. Firstly, engaged by your company in what policy means and what the culture of your company is and should be.

Secondly, engaged by and with, and motivated by what they see around them and how they FEEL the company takes issues important to them seriously.

Employees are going to be feeling ever more vulnerable in 2012. Genuine dialogue and re-assuring actions are the solution. We are all people businesses.

Sustainability communications and ideas sharing is the ideal way to demonstrate to colleagues that the company is here for the long term, and cares about their views.

A useful motivator given pay rises are likely to be tight in 2012.

(There’s an very useful new book coming out later in the year by my good friend and all round excellent consultant/writer Andrew Savitz. Keep an eye out for that in May. It should be a cracker.)

Engaged boards: Again, in two senses. Firstly, engaged in the business case to think about investment horizons beyond the short-ish term.

Secondly, engaged in the conversation about becoming stewards rather than managers on a 3-4 year cycle, and in what corporate sustainability means concerning how the company does business every day, and reacts to emerging issues.

Board briefings (I can help you there) will be important on both the business case AND what it means for your business and the industry you work in.

There are other vitally important stakeholder groups too: NGOs, business partners, suppliers, supply chain managers and the media, among others. I’ll post on the case for, and how, engage them, separately.

(I’ve just finished presentations I’ve road tested successfully in December, on engaging all those groups. So let me know if you’d like to see them)

Now over to you readers (my ‘hanging high five’ moment in techni-colour glory!), what’s going to matter most in your business, to your industry in 2012?

What’s NOT covered above, that you think we should all be more aware of?

The same old issues around persuasion, incremental change and better, broader, risk management?

Or something new, or more fundamental?

It could be that you feel the Facebook IPO will revolutionise corporate communications, or that California’s Supply Chain Slavery/Transparency Act will change how many companies disclose risk.

Perhaps the biggest issue of 2012 for sustainable business will not be Rio+20, for all its hand wringing and exhortation, but the final decision as who will run China for the next 5-10 years.

And your view is…?

China’s Politburo: Where supply chain standards are, and will be, driven from