How megatrends like climate change are shaping the future of business and careers in sustainability
When global crises occur, they can affect the economy like a wave; a disturbance that can quickly travel, fluctuate in size and transfer energy at an unpredictable speed.
Published 26 Oct, 2022 · 5-minute read
The views expressed in this article represent Christine de Waard’s personal opinions and do not necessarily represent the position of EY.
When global crises occur, they can affect the economy like a wave; a disturbance that can quickly travel, fluctuate in size and transfer energy at an unpredictable speed. There’s a domino effect that affects businesses, the market, and everyday life.
During the last few years, Australia has endured significant disruptions in the form of bushfires, a global health pandemic and flooding, straining a variety of businesses and industries. These disruptions are examples of megatrends, the transformative collection of social, environmental, and technological forces that impact and reshape global society and economies at an accelerated pace.
Environmental risks are no longer seen as purely ‘environmental issues’, with these risks dominating the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022 – for both the short and long term. Climate action failure, extreme weather events, and loss of biodiversity are predicted to have a severe impact on ecosystems, access to natural capital, and economic activity, with substantial financial losses.
Christine de Waard, Ernst & Young (EY) manager and UQ Bachelor of Business Management / Bachelor of Science alum, is a specialist in helping government and industry prepare for climate change and operate more sustainably long term. Christine’s position allows her to analyse megatrends to identify risks and the opportunities for businesses to develop their resilience and face future disruptions.
“We’re seeing businesses, as well as governments, grappling with change and disruption from all these external sources. They’re having to plan and make changes to the way they work on the go.” – Christine de Waard
Megatrends help inform our understanding of what the future economy and working world will look like. Climate change can shape careers by shaping the global economy. New industries and jobs are created from global disruptions, as businesses increasingly change the way they run and influence the way we work.
Why businesses need to adapt to megatrends
There can be critical long-term disadvantages for businesses that underestimate the risks associated with megatrend disruptions and do not adapt. This oversight can be a result of current incentive structures that reward short-term performance and diminish the value of long-term resourcing or goals.
Christine highlights the potential for business growth if organisations are quick to adapt to climate change and implement sustainable practices. She notes, “there are huge opportunities to be more efficient with resources, reduce waste, use different energy sources, come up with new innovative products and services, access new markets and growth in existing markets, and increase resilience.”
Christine has found that organisations and businesses are no longer only expected to create profit for shareholders. There are now consumer and stakeholder expectations about the way organisations engage with society, impact the environment, and prepare for the associated risks of climate change. Failing to address these expectations can lead to a business’s downfall.
Equally important is how companies communicate to build transparency over environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, in addition to financial performance. New reporting standards are emerging for companies which are likely to integrate performance across climate change and environment into financial statements, connecting sustainability reporting and performance to the value of a company.
Value in sustainability: capitalising on opportunities in the public and private sector
Christine has worked with a number of government clients, private companies and not-for-profit organisations to realise the value in sustainability. From understanding climate risks and opportunities for communities and industries across Australia, to developing decarbonisation pathways for businesses and industries to reach net zero emissions, to communicating these through strategy and policy.
“Some of my most interesting projects to date have shown that there are significant upsides to embracing a transition to net zero emissions, and much lower risk, compared to continuing business as usual. We have seen this make a real difference in how organisations go about decision-making, planning and policy development.” – Christine de Waard
The upside to disruption for businesses and industries who respond to opportunities can include:
access to emerging markets and consumer demand for low carbon products and services
an improved reputation from adapting early to a future low carbon economy
increasing resilience of businesses and economies (e.g., resilience to changing policies and physical resilience to changing climate patterns)
social benefits including access to more affordable energy over time and green jobs
environmental benefits including reduced reliance on raw materials (e.g., from increased efficiency and recycling) and protection of the natural environment.
Influence on future careers in business
New careers and industries have appeared in response to megatrends and growing demand for sustainable business practices. There are more and more jobs available that involve sustainability, circular economy development, green finance, biodiversity, fuel and emissions compliance, and climate change.
“When thinking about tertiary studies, think about jobs of the future. If you’re really interested in something and want to learn more about it, that’s a great place to start.” – Christine de Waard
Careers combining business and sustainability can:
help organisations understand regulatory threats and new opportunities
monitor nonfinancial performance and assure public disclosures on progress
develop and implement government policy and strategy
adapt and mitigate climate change issues across all sectors of the economy and natural environment.
As the impact of climate change becomes increasingly difficult to predict and plan for, roles that support organisations in developing and managing their response will become integral. More and more, stakeholders and customers are demanding greater transparency about the sustainability of a business’s practices. Businesses will need to strengthen their operating systems to survive.
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