April 21, 2022
Get ready for the ‘net zero era’
Here are three ways for businesses to prepare for the new age that’s emerging.
Amid widespread dysfunction—a pandemic, a previously unthinkable war, unprecedented weather events, snarled supply chains, rampant labor shortages—it’s easy to sense the old world fading away, never to return. Less obvious, but as certain, is the dawning of a new era.
This new reality will be defined by a volatile planet whose citizens, businesses and governments discover new ways to function productively, safely, sustainably and meaningfully. It will also be infused with astonishing technological progress and innovation and hope.
Call it the “net zero era”—not because carbon reduction is the only need of the day but because the term encapsulates the many challenges the world faces, the most threatening of which is sustaining the planet. For business leaders everywhere, it will be essential to recognize the glimmers of this new era and grasp what's important and what's possible.
Field guide to the net zero era
We’ve developed a field guide to what the net zero era entails, as well as the three essential drivers forward-thinking businesses need to embrace to navigate it successfully. (For a full exploration of the topic, see our report “The Future of Us.”)
Here’s a quick rundown on each driver—why it’s vital and how to prepare for it:
- Digital+: View everything through a digital lens.
The complex solutions needed to solve our interconnected social, economic, health and environmental challenges will rely on the speed, automation, intelligence and connectedness that only a digital-first mindset can bring. New business and operational models—from “everything as a service” (XaaS), to circular business models, to systems thinking—will be supported by advanced modes of information sharing, collaboration and intensive analytics.
Going forward, organizations won’t find satisfactory solutions in isolation. Rather, they’ll need deeper collaboration through tech-enabled ecosystems that pool ideas, opportunities, capabilities and risk.
Organizations can prepare for this increased collaboration by empowering dedicated teams to swarm around a specific challenge, and connect these teams with other industry partners and innovative startups to unlock new insights about the art of the possible.
Using systems thinking (mapping the impact of business decisions beyond the immediate next step in the supply chain and optimizing processes with objectives that extend to the benefit of a larger subset of players), businesses can also improve the value and effectiveness of their collaborations.
- Consumer empowerment: Understand the newly conscious, self-reliant consumer.
The old customer relationship is broken. Consumers not only want to be known by the businesses they interact with through personalization initiatives; increasingly, they also demand agency over the formulation of the end products they buy, the services they consume, the choices they make, and the experiences they choose. Businesses need to provide the transparency, trust and control consumers increasingly demand.
Rather than placing consumers at the receiving end of the product development process, forward-thinking businesses are including them as partners in co-creating goods and services. The result: an end product completely suited to their lifestyle and principles, from reducing their environmental impact to getting the exact product for their needs or tastes.
This shift is already underway. Through social platforms, consumers are becoming more influential than traditional marketers, building and marketing their own content and even physical goods.
Businesses must respond and prepare by identifying whether their current market segmentation offers enough insight about their customers’ values to engage them in a hands-on co-creation process. They should also consider which technologies could make it easier to obtain consumers’ input at different parts of the value creation process and product lifecycle.
- Purpose: Promote and support a sense of purpose and belonging.
Shareholders, regulators and consumers are asking institutions to tap into a deep sense of purpose to persevere and thrive in a world redefined by illness and natural calamity but also refreshed by technological advancement and innovation. Attracting the next generation of talent and building closer relationships with customers will depend on developing and acting on a corporate ethos that guarantees workers of all stripes a supportive work environment.
In the net zero era, businesses seeking to attract and retain top talent must adequately invest in the planning, preparation and execution phases of hybrid work. A major piece of this strategizing will center on developing role-specific work-location strategies.
Using a heads-up/heads-down model, work-redesign teams can estimate how much of a given role’s time and responsibilities are spent on activities that are best facilitated in-office or remotely. The resulting flexible work structures should be customized, best-fit arrangements, based on employee input and guidance, and a work assessment based on activities instead of functional groupings.
Meanwhile, the physical workplace will become not just a place work gets done but an attractive place to mentor and be mentored, collaborate, exchange ideas, and develop cultural cohesion and a sense of shared purpose.
Facing the challenges of the net zero era will require targeted investment, innovative thinking and quick action. The pandemic has brought down the curtain on digital’s first act, and now the second act is about to begin. A new era is unfolding—the net zero era. This is the Future of Us.
For more information, read our report “The Future of Us.”