Earlier this week, an article from Packaging Digest came across my news feed and immediately caught my attention. The report, Nestlé Clarifies its Sustainable Packaging Vision, highlights the company's ambitious vision to make 100% of its product packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2025. While this public goal is exciting on its own, what is really compelling is the increasing number of such announcements and articles. We're seeing more and more reporting on actions taken, progress made, and ambitions pursued and achieved to address climate change and global sustainability.
A quick scan through my recently saved articles on Pocket shows a clear pattern of organizations and communities accelerating their efforts to solve the world's hardest and most pressing problems. (As this week’s United Nations IPBES report about global biodiversity, ecosystem, climate, and human extinction so clearly indicates, sustainability qualifies as a hard and pressing problem.) Besides Nestlé, some of the most notable organizations and communities announcing major sustainability efforts include:
Global media and news outlets show evidence that businesses, countries, states, counties, non-profits, and even individuals are taking responsibility for the matter. From New York to Nairobi, across rural communities in China and through the heart of the European Union, biogas and anaerobic digestion solutions are becoming more significant and common, promising to limit climate change drastically. Startups like Cleanbodia are working on the ground to rally tourists, local consumers, shop owners, investors, and the government to work together to raise awareness and create lasting change.
“The emergent civilization writes a new code of behavior for us and carries us beyond standardization, synchronization and centralization, beyond the concentration of energy, power and money.”
– Alvin Toffler, Creating a New Civilization
Even as they acknowledge that they cannot solve the entire issue or problem associated with global sustainability, these smaller players are not detoured from taking whatever action is within their purview or span of control.
Sustainability is Just an Example
The efforts we're seeing emerge to combat climate change are merely an example of the democratized environment that is characterizing the contemporary global operating environment. There's visible turbulence being created by the collision between yesterday's siloed industrial models and modern knowledge models, which are hyperconnected and virtually boundary-less. Where industrial models stressed "massification" – mass production, mass markets, mass education, mass marketing, and mass politics. This hyperproduction mindset generated integrated and mutually supportive systems where standardization, centralized decision-making and command, and the maximization of scale – all focused on outcomes.
Today's interconnected, intertwined system of people, data, knowledge, governments, businesses, and things is different in almost every respect. Demassification has replaced massification as an objective, even as the spread and influence of work have grown every more exponential thanks to the free-flow of information across online channels. We see evidence of this new reality in how information is shared, products are manufactured, and organizations are composed.
Take the Nestlé announcement as an example of how democratized – and thereby magnified – the spread of information has become. Published in early March, news and impacts of the story have circulated via hundreds of shares and posts on Facebook and Linkedin every day since – to the posting of this piece two months later. Almost every one of those posts or articles pulls in news from other major brands working to achieve similar objectives and feedback from the marketplace.
Beyond the network of information and news sharing, we also see evidence of demassification and democratization in modern manufacturing where customization has replaced broad production. With a world of options in their hand, each consumer has more capacity than ever to find and select precisely those products, causes, and experiences that satisfy their needs and wants. Businesses are racing to appease these segments of one. Rather than employing technology to mass-produce standardized items, brands are using it to collect more precise data on psychographics, needs and desires, and influencer networks. That capacity is actually creating new retail models like direct-to-consumer (D2C), in which products are custom-created and delivered straight to the consumer, skipping the traditional mass distribution network altogether.
New organizational models also are using the concept of demassification. Specifically, corporate groups are breaking down traditional hierarchies to operate more effectively and efficiently. The objective here is less about the spread of news or personalized product development – instead, it is a capacity to function with more agility in an environment of constant disruption. Bigger is no longer better. The ideal is smaller, more decentralized, and optimized for control and action. Even within larger entities, sub-groups have authority and accountability to act within their regions to advance on the strategic ambitions and goals of the organization at large.
Creating a State of Flow to Improve the Future
Operating strategy in a state of continual iteration is more important than ever. From talent management to product development, to supply chain optimization, resilience hinges on a state of flow. The notion around the state of flow is that as we learn and know better, we do better.
Free-flowing information and connected networks improve our ability to react and adapt in an era of constant change. As the organization experiences change and disruption, it has the connectedness and behaviors in place to absorb information, understand its implications, adapt to thrive, plan for what comes next, and mobilize its people.
A state of flow model works at small and large levels, simple and more complex systems. Going back to the system associated with solving our global sustainability issues, we see that the solution is not a top-down approach driven by structure and hierarchy. The issue is too pressing to wait for world leaders to embark on a single path. By opening the problem to innovators at every level and corner of the globe, we benefit from a full network where individuals like Greta Thunberg have as much ability to prompt broad adaptation as enterprises like Nestlé.
How are you embracing the state of flow model to solve the problems you care deeply about?
Deborah Westphal is a passionate humanist who has guided our era’s top minds and leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections and resilience for a secure and sound future. Her career spans more than 30 years in government agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and on virtually every continent. In 1999, Alvin Toffler tapped her as one of the founding members of his eponymous consulting firm, Toffler Associates. From 2007 through 2018, she served as the firm’s CEO and has since contributed her experience and knowledge as a member of the board. Through her work, she has guided notable organizations including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Marriott, U.S. Air Force, Baxter International, Bayer, Heinz, Microsoft, Koppers, PPG, DARPA, National Security Agency, Loral Space Systems, NASA, Qwest, Verizon, and Westinghouse. Deborah’s empathetic and thought-provoking style helps readers spot patterns that signify future risks and opportunities. She’s a sought-after speaker and writer who provided the Foreword to After Shock. Her book, Convergence: Technology, Business, and the Human-Centric Future, was published in May 2021 by Unnamed Press. Find her at deborahwestphal.com.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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