Study Explores Question: Are Globalization and Sustainable Development on a Collision Course?

In an assessment of the business operating context in the year 2027, SustainAbility, Ltd., a think tank, reports that not only will there be new rules for sustaining business success over the next 20 years, but also that "the game itself is poised to change profoundly. There will be winners and losers; but there is no more business as usual."

More than two years in the making and sponsored by Shell, Ford, Novo Nordisk, Vodafone, The Skoll Foundation and others, "Raising Our Game: Can We Sustain Globalization?" was released on May 31. The study exposes the interplay of sustainable development and globalization that will define the future. According to the report, the complexities of globalization and the evolving global sustainability agenda will define markets in the 21st century.

"Navigating this terrain will challenge the global business community like nothing previously experienced," said co-author John Elkington.

The study depicts four alternate scenarios for the year 2027 in a card game format, where clubs, hearts, diamonds and spades represent various combinations of environmental and societal wins and losses. According to the report:

Hearts: "This is a world in which demography, politics, economics, and sustainability gel."

Spades: "Democratic societies open out higher living standards to growing populations. One key consequence is that natural resource prices rise, but another is that ecosystems are progressively undermined."

Clubs: "This is a world in which, among other things, the elites learn how to use environmental sustainability as an excuse for denying the poor access to their fair share of natural resources."

Diamonds: "Demographic trends and the spread of western lifestyles devastate ecosystems. The challenges come in forms that disable decision makers and overwhelm society's ability to respond effectively."

"Grounded in the hard realities that business and policy leaders face now and through 2027, 'Raising Our Game' is neither a starry-eyed look at a rosy future, nor a "chicken little" prediction of inevitable calamity," said Jonathan Halperin, SustainAbility's director of research and advocacy in Washington, D.C. "It is about the hard choices we face, and what they mean for us all down the road. As the stakes rise, innovation, entrepreneurship and effectively sourcing ideas and talent from emerging economies will be essential to managing the worsening divides that now threaten global stability."

For more information, contact SustainAbility at

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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