by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) Oh my, it seems we’ve hit a collective stumbling block, where the future we’ve all been building for ourselves has proven fundamentally unsustainable, given the resource constraints of our planet —and, to make matters worse, is an imminent threat to our very existence.

While some, like Elon Musk, are looking beyond Earth’s borders for solutions, many business leaders, scientists, consumers and otherwise spirited individuals the world over are baying for radical economic change to avoid our looming demise. They’re probably right, given the first five threats in the 2020 World Economic Forum (WEF) risks report for the coming decade are all related to the climate crisis; so, while the scale of it is beyond daunting, we must act now.

Many of the answers to address the pending tipping point and stay under the 1.5C to 2C global-warming target of the Paris Agreement have been available to us for some time. It’s only in very recent weeks and months that the global media machine has spun the story to such dizzying heights that the world’s most-influential capitalists have been stirred to action.

Catalysts for change

Among the leading activists, “TIME’s Person of the Year” Greta Thunberg has been the spark for what’s likely the largest climate strike in history, with over 6m people having gathered in streets around the globe in September 2019 alone. Love her or hate her, she is asking the tough questions of today’s regime.

In response to the pressing paradigm shift, Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, recently made a firm statement in an open letter to CEOs, asserting that we’re on the “edge of a fundamental redefining of finance”, and that “in the near future — and sooner than most anticipate — there will be a significant reallocation of capital.” In short, he’s saying that climate risk is finance risk; our ecosystem is our economy. And we can’t afford to wait.

Inevitable shift

What politicians have failed to successfully do through policy creation and enforcement, consumers are demanding must be done. In the middle of the two lies an unfathomably powerful vehicle for pressing change home: our business sector.

Capitalism has long been the most-effective, -productive and -innovative form of exchange — the lifeblood of human advancement. But it’s clear to see that the system is now broken. According to Global Footprint Network, humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate, equivalent to 1.75 Earths per year. Global leaders in Davos have now been asked by WEF to set a nett-zero target for carbon emissions. The writing is on the wall.

What happens next

What we’re entering into is an era of two radical shifts to our economy, past the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), characterised by rapid technological transformation (the information technology age) to the fifth industrial revolution or Society 5.0 (a term coined by the Japanese government), in which production, consumption and life will be oriented towards a sustainable (even regenerative), inclusive existence powered by digital technology.

This fundamentally alters the way that organisations view value creation and distribution, stakeholder-orientation and the kind of leadership culture that’s required to guide this transformative change.

Our responsibility

Every active businessperson is both a cause of the crisis (calculate your own carbon footprint here) and a cog in the solution. What we do inside and outside of our businesses can and will change the status quo. It’s a problem that extends far beyond marketing, to the very fabric of organisational philosophy, construct and operation. Yet marketing can help; it can be the mouthpiece of brands manifesting change and championing the underserved, of embedding hope in the consciousness of society and creating purpose-led futures.

We are indeed entering an age of more-human, -conscious capitalism that will better serve the world, all stakeholders and, ultimately, our existence.

This is a defining time in our collective history where every little bit counts; it’s time to do work that matters to us all.


  • The
  • Global Footprint Network


Tom FelsTom Fels (@thomasfels) is a mission-driven brand expert, keynote speaker and an evangelist for conscious business. Recently CEO at Singita and Nurun and group MD of Publicis Machine (now Machine_), he’s overseen local and global award-winning communications, digital and hospitality businesses. With experience in guiding some of the world’s top brands across the areas of business strategy, digital transformation and marketing, Tom is currently an independent strategic advisor, focusing on creating visionary, high-growth futures for change-making organisations. A past contributor, his new monthly column, “Mission”, will offer perspectives that motivate a more-conscious approach to business and inspire change.

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