After all, sustainable and climate-friendly measures do not necessarily counteract our own corporate growth. But we can’t ignore the challenges that await us in the future. A commentary on growth, ecology and new ways of thinking.
Never before have climate protection, sustainability and renunciation been so present in the public eye as they are today. Of course, they have been around for a long time: the environmental movements and corresponding political measures. If you think back in the history of Germany, some prominent events come into focus.
There were the Sunday driving bans in the 1970s, which were more a reaction to the oil crisis and the oil embargo than serious environmental protection measures. In the 1980s, buzzwords such as “forest death,” “acid rain,” and “waste separation,” as well as the Chernobyl tragedy, dominated news coverage. All of this sensitized the general public to environmental issues.
Finally, this also made itself felt in the political landscape: BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN moved into state and federal parliaments. In the 1990s and 2000s, the focus was primarily on economic success. Sustainability was more of an afterthought, which only became topical again with the Fukushima disaster in 2011. The result: a drastic rethinking of energy policy.
Since 2018, movements such as Fridays For Future have been attracting worldwide attention. Students are taking to the streets and demonstrating for policies that are oriented towards climate protection requirements. “You have stolen my future” is becoming the claim of an entire generation. Climate protection and sustainability have become an integral part of everyday life – and that’s a good thing. After all, the earth does not hold unlimited resources. But how can this be reconciled with growth and individual company growth?
We live in a part of the world where the economic system is designed to increase growth. If you break this down to the individual company, the same applies here: Corporate growth tops standstill – and is in any case better than regression. But aren’t growth and climate protection an unbridgeable contradiction? Does climate protection even destroy growth?
In an interview with GEO, climate activist Luisa Neubauer says: “So far, no country has managed to decouple economic growth and resource consumption. We should definitely not rely on that working.” That can be agreed with. However, we should be careful not to judge and decide too quickly.
Same interview, another angle from Carla Reemtsma. According to her, the foundation of everything is not growth, but an intact planet. The fact is that an intact planet is the basis for life. But it is also a fact that growth is the basis for success in our society. And this has always been essential for survival. Instead of demonizing growth in principle, it makes sense to differentiate. After all, not all growth is the same.
Quantitative vs. qualitative growth
Be it economic growth, corporate growth or customer growth – any kind of growth can be differentiated. On the one hand, there is quantitative growth and, on the other, qualitative growth. As the name suggests, quantitative growth is about volume growth:
Qualitative growth also focuses on growth – although initially not measured exclusively in terms of figures, but rather in terms of subjective criteria. Qualitative corporate growth means, for example, increasing performance through more human capital. The professional education of employees or their motivation cannot be quantified directly and therefore hardly precisely, but nevertheless has an enormous impact on a company’s performance.
Same goes for customer growth. Growth in customer numbers is not necessarily associated with greater success. In fact, practical experience often proves the opposite: a few good customers often have more potential than many customers who are not a good fit for the company. Nevertheless, we are in a world where numbers play an important role.
A plea for balanced business growth
It cannot be denied: Without measurable success, which is also manifested in numbers, it is not possible to survive as a company. It would be presumptuous to regard qualitative corporate growth as the only important pillar. Without quantitative growth, neither the company nor the number of customers nor the profit will grow. And it is above all the latter two factors that determine the survival of a business. One could say that qualitative and quantitative growth are two sides of the same coin.
“Growth at any price” – this is no longer sustainable, at the latest since various bubbles burst and changes in public awareness occurred. Instead, it is about growing slowly and sustainably in the truest sense of the word. How this can be implemented and which personality traits are related to a sustainable growth strategy is also a popular topic of academic research. Carol S. Dweck from Stanford University has defined the term “growth mindset”. Again, the focus is on growth – but the personal one. Here you can find an explanatory video by Carol S. Dweck >Teaching a Growth Mindset.
Success is largely determined by one’s own attitude. Those who want to rise above themselves are by no means well advised to stick to rigid principles or remain in a state of shock. This applies not only to the private sphere, but also to business: Corporate growth – especially qualitative growth – and growth thinking (“growth mindset”) go hand in hand.
But what are the ideal characteristics of a growth mindset and what does the counterpart, “static thinking,” look like?
|Growth Mindset||Fixed Mindset|
|Belief in being able to further develop one's own abilities||Conviction that one has talent - or not.|
|"I can't do that yet."||"I can't do this."|
|Mistakes are an opportunity||Errors are a threat|
|"Challenges keep me going."||" That''s too difficult. It would be a waste of time for me to deal with it."|
A glance at the table makes it clear that the discussion on “corporate growth and environmental protection” in particular often lacks an approach with a growth mindset. Rigid thought structures and little openness characterize public discourse – resulting in hardened fronts and little innovative spirit. An open exchange and possibly a gain in knowledge seem almost impossible.
Growth and renunciation. Enlargement and restriction at the same time. Both pairs of expressions seem like opposites. But they don’t have to be. One thing is certain: It will be an enormous challenge to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. It is impossible to say whether this will be possible at all.
At the same time, business growth cannot simply be detached from quantitative success. Environmental and climate protection measures are notoriously expensive. Recent years have also shown that a rigid focus on growth is usually incompatible with climate protection.
So alternative approaches and the courage to try something new are needed. It needs innovations that produce the same output with less input through resource-saving modes of operation. New services are needed that radically simplify previously (energy) intensive tasks and produce at least the same results.
Perhaps even a pioneering spirit is needed to put qualitative, sustainable growth above immediate business success. A growth mindset opens up such new possibilities. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that a company has to face the adversities in the market, even in difficult situations, and that this entails difficult decisions.
Transparency and openness in such difficult decisions concerning environmental and climate protection help companies to remain economically successful and authentic. In times when the issues of sustainability and climate protection are becoming increasingly important for customers and business partners, superficial and supposedly “green” solutions are the wrong approach. Greenwashing (greenwashing explained) is anything but beneficial. Customers lose their trust, partners feel ripped off. And anyone who only pretends to be environmentally friendly is not contributing to environmental and climate protection either. So what can be done?
There is, as is so often the case, no universal roadmap for bringing sustainability and corporate growth down to a common denominator. However, one thing is important: A company never grows on its own. People play a central role in its success. The people behind a product or service and the people who use it.
If priorities shift, so do the factors that are relevant to a company’s success. If climate protection, sacrifice and sustainability play an ever greater role in our everyday lives, they will also become increasingly important for business. Then they are not growth killers, but encourage the growth of (ideas).
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