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The Elephant in the Boardroom: Why Unchecked Consumption is Not an Option in Tomorrow’s Markets

There has been a significant shift in business leadership on environmental and sustainable development over the past 20 years. It has become standard for companies to establish greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and renewable energy goals and to address issues such as water risk and deforestation.

However, despite this wave of change, one uncomfortable truth still remains: Most businesses’ growth is still predicated on more people buying more goods. The world will have more than 9 billion people by 2050 and the middle class will have swelled by 3 billion by 2030. On top of this, consumer expectations for yet more are being stoked by trends such as fast fashion. The rapid expansion of consumption-driven markets in the coming decades is the anticipated engine for continued business growth.

But the planet’s finite resources and natural systems cannot support such a model of growth — and we are already at or close to the limits of the plant’s ability to provide. A continuation of business-as-usual would mean not just a slight additional strain, but three times as much consumption of the planet’s already overtaxed resources.

The purpose of this paper by the World Resource Institute is to begin to normalize the topic so that sustainability professionals, the C-suite, the board and investors are able to openly recognize and discuss the challenges. It is only by having these conversations that businesses can start to identify transformational business models, models that will enable businesses to thrive by serving the markets of the future within the limits of the planet’s resources.

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