7 billion and counting…

While in discussion with our Head of Environment this week, we were considering what 2011 might bring from a sustainability point of view and our conversation came around to the topic of global population.  One certainty is that 2011 will be the year in which the global population goes passed 7 billion people.

Up until the industrial revolution, the world had less than 1 billion inhabitants.  Somewhere around 1800 the clock ticked past that first billion; 130 years later in 1930 we reached 2 billion.  After that the acceleration really started, in just another 30 years (in 1960) we reached 3 billion, in another 14 years (1974) it was 4 billion.  5 billion was reached in 1987 and 6 billion in 1999 (13 and 12 years respectively).

And so now, another 12 years later, the clock will reach the 7 billion mark on its journey towards perhaps 9+ billion by mid-century.

Our musings then lead us to consider how the sustainability landscape has changed over the last 12 years since we went passed 6 billion.  In 1999 the Kyoto Protocol was two years old, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index was only just launched and the UN Millennium Development Goals were still a year away.  At that time the vast majority of businesses wouldn’t even have considered sustainability, let alone have it on the CEO agenda.  Where it was on the agenda, it was probably being treated as a compliance issue under the banner of Environment, Health and Safety.

How different it is today, with sustainability firmly on the CEO agenda and with most businesses recognising that without a sustainability focus they jeopardise their ability to attract and retain customers and in many cases employees as well.  For others without an adequate approach, they struggle to get access to financial capital or to the natural resources they need to operate.

Only time will tell what will be dominating the sustainability agenda in the 2024 when the clock is projected to pass 8 billion, but it seems probable that the focus will be greater rather than less.

12th February 2011