We live in a time of massive challenges that threaten our way of life and the stability of society. Climate change is real, species extinction is advancing, social inequality is widening. Scientists around the globe believe that the world’s population should only be allowed to emit a specified amount of carbon dioxide, which is decreasing by the second, in order to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 °C and thus limit the change to the world’s climate. This measure alone, according to scientists, could prevent or at least contain climate-related devastation, such as droughts, a further rise in sea levels and further species extinction.
As for social inequality: in Germany alone, the richest 1% of the population had a 35% share of total wealth in 2020, and the richest ten percent owned a total of around two-thirds. Globally, the situation is even more dramatic: 83% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of just ten percent of the population.
Voices Crying Out in the Wilderness
Parts of the scientific community sounded the alarm as early as the 20th century: In its 1972 report The Limits to Growth, the Club of Rome wrote that resources and thus (economic) growth are finite, that the world’s population is living beyond its means and this is leading to environmental destruction, poverty, famine and population displacement, among other disasters. But world leaders in politics, business and society – the so-called “1%” – have long ignored these warning signs. They’ve continued to cling to the principle of profit maximization and growth. They have not seen, or perhaps have not wanted to see, the damage their actions are causing to the environment and to the entire world population.
“Business as Usual” Leads Nowhere
Neither well-intentioned appeals nor Sunday sermons will bring real solutions to the climate crisis and the widening gap between rich and poor. Instead, we must tackle the root causes of these problems. This is where the elites come in: they must get more involved, take on more responsibility. Why? Quite simply, they are in a position to take action and make a difference – unlike, for example, people who live just above the poverty line, struggle daily to provide their families with life’s necessities and often have problems other than their carbon footprint. And last but not least: The voices of the elites get listened to.
Viewing Change as a Commitment
Putting one’s power at the service of the community is therefore not only an option, but an obligation for entrepreneurs. Of course, each individual must also make a contribution to change, and each individual should always consider the consequences of his or her own actions. But the main responsibility lies with all those who not only have the education and insight, but also a certain financial power as well as the independence, freedom, and assertiveness to deal with and implement solutions to the major problems of our time.
Today, successful entrepreneurs can no longer sit back and claim to have done everything in their power for society by donating a small part of their wealth, setting up a foundation late in their career or supporting charitable organisations. In order to live up to their responsibility, they should confront the existing challenges – in other words, act as entrepreneurs in the truest sense of the word by doing more. They must set an example, speak out about unpleasant truths – but above all else: act.
Each of us can adapt our behaviour and that of our companies in such a way that the basis of life is preserved for future generations, both ecologically and socially. There is so much we can do:
- Rethink our own lifestyle and consumption habits and measure, reduce and compensate our climate footprints annually
- Make our own company more sustainable from an environmental point of view (see also Leaders for Climate Action initiative, which Ferry and I co-founded and Ferry’s book on Climate Action for Entrepreneurs)
- Make investments not only from the point of view of financial profit maximization, but consider the environmental & social impact of each our investment strategies and actively optimise for financial return and impact combined
- Support those political actors who understood what regulatory change it needs to preserve environmental sustainability and increase social justice and have the courage to act upon it
Change always starts with us, personally. We act in concentric circles, starting at the inside and working our way towards the outside. Let’s start to shape the world for the better. So that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can also lead a good life and be proud of us as their ancestors. Because we had the brains to understand what has to be done and the hearts and hands to actually do it. This is what I mean with accepting responsibility for all of those who are part of the “1%”.