Blog post

Sustainability is back… but with a twist

By Frank Buytendijk | July 02, 2019 | 2 Comments

The story of globalization because of technology innovation is under pressure. The work we did on future scenarios, called Digitopia, showed that in the future our circles may be getting smaller, instead of bigger. Technoprotection and technonationalism are dictating the agenda.

Globalization has been the “bigger picture”, the societal narrative, for the last decades. A shared vision on what brings progress and prosperity. Our story of hope. If we stop believing in this, what do we believe in? What would be our new story of hope, progress and prosperity? As a society we need a shared perspective. Without this we are aimless, and we keep discussing, instead of taking action. The good news is that if you ask people how they think life will look like in the future, which is what we did in the Digitopia project, a clear pattern emerges. The theme of “sustainability” is back.

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) were popular themes 15 years ago as well, but it was largely positioned as a form of compensation for negative business impact. Think for instance of carbon offsetting programs, and supporting good causes. Although sustainable product development and recycling (cradle-to-cradle) was pioneered, it was only picked up by a small number of businesses.

There is renewed attention for the topic of sustainability, but in a wider sense, and more connected to the core of the business: contributing to a more sustainable society. Next to having a customer value proposition (a short description of what value you feel you are delivering to customers), some businesses start to develop a societal value proposition as well. Mostly focused on technology and innovation.

In about every industry there are larger societal issues that need to be addressed. Feeding a growing population is a key concern in agriculture. Providing healthcare to an aging population is a theme in healthcare. Renewable energy is being addressed in the utility space. Fintech in financial services helps driving higher socio-economical participation of people, and so forth.

Next to that there are themes that are relevant to all businesses. Think of climate change and employment for instance.

The role of technology in society, both in terms of opportunity and risk, has become a CEO topic. It’s been a “hot topic” for a few years now in Davos, at the World Economic Forum.

For every enterprise, public sector or commercial, the question arises: what vision do you have on what makes a good society, and what is your contribution? In other words, what is your societal value proposition

A recent Gartner survey showed that almost 75% of respondents expect from prospective employers that they speak out on relevant social themes. The Edelmand Trust barometer shows a comparable picture for customers, who would like to know what your brand really stands for.

The tech sector is leading in this. There have been various examples of employees of Google, Microsoft and Amazon writing an open letter to their management sharing concerns about the use or misuse of the technologies that they develop. And what happens in the tech sector, trickles through to other industries as well.

So, what societal themes are relevant and important to you? And what can you contribute as an enterprise?

Frank Buytendijk (@FrankBuytendijk) is a Research Fellow at Gartner Research & Advisory. He pioneers in the field of digital philosophy and ethics, the #digitalsociety and pragmatic futurism.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Comments are closed


  • HansL says:

    Goed stuk, Frank.

    ( met ‘Davod’ bedoelde je ‘Davos’, right?
    en je bent RF for Gartner Research & Advisory, of bij? )

    ( alt+128077 )