Population Matters: Managing the 7 Billion Member Household
The birth of Danica May Camacho in the Philippines in late October pushed the earth’s population over 7 billion, up seven-fold since 1800, demographers tell us. The United Nations chose her as one of several children around the world symbolizing the global population milestone. Unfortunately, she arrives into a world facing severe dilemmas – for example, it’s running out of stuff, in large part due to the ballooning population, as financial guru Jeremy Grantham has observed. What are the implications of exponential population growth in the face of finite resources? How might companies promote sustainable consumption and sustainable development while still generating profits?
And it’s not just a matter of unfettered consumption and limited resources. Population growth carries with it social and political challenges, too. Given the uptick in the number of older people and youth alike, how might firms confront intergenerational issues (including wealth disparities) in ways that balance profit with shared prosperity—thus mitigating the simmering rage experienced by those who can’t find work? Given massive population flows to urban areas – often including refugees from conflict zones – what can companies do to tackle the rise of mega-cities and migration to areas least able to cope? Finally, because so much of population growth involves fertility rates and reproductive rights of women, what are the challenges for gender empowerment and equity?
What it means
Over 40 years ago, Paul and Anne Ehrlich put demography on the public agenda through their best-selling book, The Population Bomb—much like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) did for the environment. While many considered the Ehrlich’s book alarmist, it helped raise awareness about the potential for social upheaval, environmental degradation, and famine if policies to limit population growth weren’t enacted.
The Business Response
How businesses respond to population growth depends, in part, on how they view their long-term obligations within a highly competitive, turbulent market. Some issues – such as environmental footprinting, stakeholder engagement, and supply chain risk reduction – already cover critical demographic issues such as resource depletion, social sustainability (particularly in developing societies), and gender equity / human rights. Indeed, regarding human rights, on November 10th Social Accountability International (SAI), which pioneered a “social fingerprint” approach to improving supply chain performance, announced its partnership with the Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO) to create a handbook and toolkit to help businesses implement the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Human Rights, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council last June.
More specifically, here are what companies are doing to manage the global household . . .