tya_logo_2017When you look to the year ahead, what do you see? Ensia recently invited eight global thought leaders to share their thoughts. In this interview with Ensia contributor Lisa Palmer for Ensia’s 2017 print annual, author and speaker Andrew Winston responds to three questions: What will be the biggest challenge to address or opportunity to grasp in your field in 2017? Why? And what should we be doing about it now?

The business community has moved a long way in recent years. There’s broad acceptance that pursuing sustain­ability and addressing climate change are good for business. Seeing that general busi­ness case, companies have begun to invest in and build a cleaner more sustainable economy, so the biggest opportunity is to keep that momentum going. This quest may become more of a challenge in 2017 if the new administration in the U.S. is hos­tile to action on climate, clean energy and social justice. But the megatrends driving companies toward resilience, sustainability and clean tech are not going away — and they don’t depend much on government.

For example, thanks to innovation and increasing scale, renewables are often less expensive than fossil fuels — even without subsidies. Many large companies are buy­ing significant quantities of solar and wind power. On top of pro-climate economic trends like these, social pressure on com­panies to manage environmental and social issues is rising. Millennials want organiza­tions they work for and buy from to pur­sue more than profit, motivating forward-thinking companies to demonstrate a com­mitment to a larger purpose.

The challenge for 2017, beyond navi­gating a radically different U.S. political landscape, is to change our mind-set.Still, the quest for sustainable business faces perennial challenges. Executives feel relentless pressure for short-term results and often believe that sustainability always costs too much. But many things compa­nies do under the banner of sustainabil­ity, like eco-efficiency, save money very quickly. Other, deeper changes in a com­pany’s operations, products and supply chains will require investment with possibly lon­ger payback periods. So get­ting organizational attention for sustainability, especially in what may be a volatile political and economic environment, could still be challenging.

The solution is partly about how we tell the story and think about value. Even though many aspects of business can’t be measured precisely, that doesn’t mean they create no significant business value. What are im­proved safety, better working conditions, business resilience, employee engagement or customer loyalty worth?

So the challenge for 2017, beyond navi­gating a radically different U.S. political landscape, is to change our mind-set. If we demonstrate that sustainability drives val­ue, business has an amazing opportunity to lead in the creation of a thriving, equi­table world. View Ensia homepage

Editor’s note: The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Ensia. We present them to further discussion around important topics. We encourage you to respond with a comment below, following our commenting guidelines, which can be found here. In addition, you might consider submitting a Voices piece of your own. See Ensia’s “Contact” page for submission guidelines.