The hunger to know what is ‘trending’ is insatiable.
Twitter notwithstanding, it takes a bit more of a step back to see patterns that are evolving rather than what is trending in the moment. I see three patterns that have been emerging for the last few years and signs of a much bigger place in the consciousness of business next year.
1. Looking Within: Creating Healthier Systems
Businesses are increasingly working across sections of targeted stakeholders, not just to get their input, but to create healthier systems with them. Five years ago Wal-Mart took the decision to reduce its own carbon footprint by collaborating with its elaborate supply chain. Now this is the pattern. Leaders inside businesses are seeing systems they affect and realizing that they can bring change across those systems. If the business is a key player in a field they can now potentially be the player that causes a shift.
For example, Google Food Services wants to change the way we think about food, our relationship with the food we consume and how Google – and our use of its services – impacts outsourcing suppliers. Can Google form a united front to work on knurly challenges like behavior?
Setting such ambitious aims is a big shift, an exciting trend where the big players see their role in responsibility going far beyond their walls to match up with the challenges ahead.
2. Social Responsibility Becomes Pervasive
Social innovation and responsibility is becoming more transparent and pervasive as a way of being a good business. When I wrote The Responsible Business four years ago, I felt I was standing in an echo chamber listening to myself say that sustainability had two problems that needed to change soon if its intentions were to be achieved.
The first concern I had was that businesses were separating sustainability into a distinctive function, which for the most part was isolating who thought about it and increasingly creating fragmented initiatives not systemic enough to really matter in a timely way.
Second, sustainability had people constantly working on creating less harm and not looking at how things worked when we have a healthy, evolving planet and community.
My metaphor: stop beating your wife less and work on a healthier marriage. We're still nowhere close to thinking like that but the conversation is shifting. I call this way of thinking, “above the line” because it joins with creating healthy systems rather than seeking to get us out of the way and slow down our actions.
The sustainability bookshelves and chat rooms everywhere are now filled with this conversation.
I look forward to a sense of responsibility that starts with strategy for healthy systems and fans out into all the work in a business, not just a department that counts reduced damage.