Is the future of capitalism inclusive?

Last week Reboot the Future, GCM and Aviva, hosted an event in London (for which FHF were a lead sponsor and PR partner) to discuss how the UK can move towards inclusive capitalism and sustainable business.

Whilst change is taking place every day, consensus from the esteemed panelists, which included Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman, Forum of the Future’s Founder, Jonathan Porritt and Aviva’s Chief RIO, Steve Waygood, among others, was that the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals provide a good framework and direction for change, but drastic change is required for the goals to be met.

In Paul Polman’s words: “We spend £100bn on bailing out the banks [which don’t get me wrong was the right thing to do] but debate spending £2bn on food scarcity until the cows come home.”

So what solutions did our panelists offer to drive change?

Firstly, the speakers agreed that the main priority should be to internalize externalities so businesses drive sustainability. In other words, we need to place a value on elements we don’t currently measure (environmental and social capital) to ensure that CEOs, and businesses more widely, become liable for more than just their business’ share price.

A more radical approach was offered by Jonathan Porritt. His argument: that we need to create discomfort amongst key stakeholders to drive progress with the SDGs. To do this, he suggests setting an 18th goal. On his recommendation, this goal could eliminate tax havens across the world, challenge remuneration structures in corporations, or mandate boards to deliver as much social value as financial value for their business to create a shift in business mindset from ‘shortermism’ to long term goals.

A more ‘comfortable’ solution was offered by Steve Waygood in the form of education; mandating financial market education for children at school level. In doing so, he hopes future generations will become more demanding when it comes to their investments, creating a shift in the marketplace for investments that meet each individual’s ethical standards.

Whilst these changes will take time, it is hoped that new initiatives, such as the World Benchmarking Association’s Index which independently evaluates companies’ efforts – or lack thereof – to improve sustainability performance, will help businesses identify strategic gaps and market opportunities to ultimately accelerate SDG delivery.

In any case, it is clear that the future of capitalism will depend on a mindset shift to unlock what the Business & Sustainable Development Commission suggests could be a $12 trillion economic opportunity.

Rima Sacre, Corporate Communications