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ProdensaMay 29, 2020 2:34:00 PM3 min read

To a more sustainable business: Morning Coffee with John Elkington

For last week´s episode of Morning Coffee, Prodensa CEO Emilio Cadena crossed paths with John Elkington. Due to the current global crisis, he was able to connect with us from the United Kingdom for a call in which we discussed his insights into a more sustainable business.

John Elkington is one of the top authorities in Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Capitalism. He is also a bestselling author and serial entrepreneur. Currently, John is a Founding Partner and Chief Pollinator at Volans.


John Elkington discussed how sustainability can be broken down into 3 segments: Economic, Social, and Environmental. In his most recent book ‘Green Swans’ he suggests that companies’ business models should take into consideration the three different dimensions without focusing on just one or two segments.
One of the problems is that environmental sustainability often “drowns out everything else” as John claimed. Therefore, he recommends that companies should be thinking of integrated solutions instead of individuals. The basic principle of the Triple Bottom Line is that People, Planet, and Profit should be fully integrated.

Covid-19: Are we at the bottom of the U-bend?

Emilio asked whether John’s U-bend theory means that he predicted the economic impact of Covid-19 as a representation of the bottom of the U-bend.

John states that it would be easy to say yes, but his U-bend theory is based on his knowledge of economic history. By looking at technology, geopolitics, and many other factors, John has been led to the conclusion that an old order was ending, and his assumption is that this will be a good thing.

John mentions that people have recently argued that what Pandemics often do in the social and economic side of our lives is to accelerate trends that already exist. He thinks the pandemic is an accelerant of change but does not think we are at the bottom of the U-bend.“No, I really don’t think so, I think the process is only just beginning, I think the economic and social consequences of the pandemic will last not just years, but decades”.

Leadership: How do we get out ahead?

John believes that the world needs new leaders with a different type of leadership in contrast to the ones we currently have. He mentions Greta Thunberg as an example of promising future leadership. Some of the important skills he includes:

  • Embracing Science
  • Passion and Ambition
  • Courage and Stamina

Emilio states: “We have to be aware that whatever happens on one side of the world will impact the other”. He emphasizes the importance of collective actions taken between leaders.

Growth and Sustainability: Which is more important?

Emilio Cadena notes John’s statement that traditional forms of politics and regulation are failing, as well as capitalism, and that businesses and governments are leaning towards growth first with sustainability as an afterthought.

John agreed with this sentiment but showcased some hope. “Growth is absolutely essential” we need to be able to feed, house and educate everyone in this growing world with lots of radically new sectors but not growing in the old way which would only add debt for future generations.

John points towards the EU’s Green Deal and a similar initiative in Canada for hope, whereby companies receiving taxpayer’s money must comply with other policy objectives such as decarbonization. “So, it is not just about growth, but about recovery and properly building towards a better world rather than enterprises that do not have a future”.

The Swans

 How to be part of the Green Swan Movement?

  • Active and effective governmental leadership, driving change and shaping markets through standards, rules, and incentives so that we can make progress in the right direction.
  • Watch the edges of the system for some early indications and evidence of where the future will take us. We have to think about the small and medium-sized companies because that’s where a lot of the innovation is now coming from.

The full version of our call with John Elkington is available for you to watch on Youtube.
Click here.