This 7-part series has been first published on Sustainable Brands between late January and early March 2016 as a 6-part series and a follow-up by Bill Baue, co-founder of Convetit and the Sustainability Context Group. It captures the essence of my thinking I was able to gather through the extraordinary work of the Reporting 3.0 Platform, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation in 2015. What came out is a structure that I called a ‘new impetus embracing purpose, success and scalability for thriving organizations’. I am reposting the original 6 parts here and add a part #7 with reflections of others. This is part 7/7.
Time to let others speak! I am grateful to Allen White, Georg Kell, KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, Bill Baue and Robin Lincoln Wood for their appraisals of ‘Integral Thinking & True Materiality’. I guess the impetus stands the test of some of the top thinkers and past and existing leaders in sustainability. Time to test it further, pilot it and share the learning experience with others, through the various angles to do so: Reporting 3.0, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation.
Allen White (Co-Founder of GRI and Founder of GISR)
Progress toward a thriving future requires a new lens for viewing corporate purpose, strategy and practice. Ralph Thurm’s Integral Thinking & True Materiality framework provides such a lens, enabling business leaders to better understand the broader socio-ecological milieu in which they operate and to which they ultimately are accountable. This kind of holistic thinking is a prerequisite to transforming organizations at the depth and speed a troubled world demands. Indeed, anything less imperils the prospects for building a just and resilient global future.
Georg Kell (Vice Chairman of the Board, Arabesque Partners; former Executive Director of the UN Global Compact)
Ralph Thurm has always been on the forefront of sustainability, from his time at Siemens to joining GRI and later Deloitte. He now continues as A|HEAD|ahead, working on necessary structural enhancements in sustainability through the various affiliations of his work, eager to explore the next level of finding suitable criteria for clarified purpose, better understanding of success and ways to scale up what’s needed to overcome sustainability incrementalism. This reader is condensing some of his thinking into a new impetus, and it contrasts current thinking that often still tends to be a bit cautious and risk-averse into a wonderful tour de force that opens the mind and connects what belongs together. Enabling fresh thinking, Integral Thinking & True Materiality is at the same time inspiring and without doubt a precious resource for anybody who wants to build lasting and thriving organisations. Following this lead we may rethink if we have done enough to invigorate trust, innovation and scalability, the outcomes of the new impetus Ralph describes.
Dr. Robin Lincoln Wood (Founder, ThriveAbility Foundation)
How can the SDG’s be integrated into corporate reporting so as to move beyond a set of silo’ed goals for ‘zero negative impact’, to stimulate innovation, excitement and the breakthroughs we need to create a safe, just operating space in which humanity can thrive? Some of the answers to this question will be found, like clues in a detective novel, in Ralph Thurm’s short compendium of articles on Integral Thinking & True Materiality.
The first clue is to be found in the leading Diagram 1 in the compendium – „Trust“. In a world where trust in our institutions and the ‚system’ is at an all time low, who can you trust? The power of great brands, like good leaders, is that they inspire trust in their promises, and by delivering reliably on those promises, that trust grows. Many organizations are now learning just how critical and valuable trust is, especially those who have lost the trust of their key stakeholders at considerable financial cost.
Clue no 2 is that „Resilience“ and „Innovation“ are pre-conditions for products and services to deliver in the longer term on an organization’s promises. The big question is: How can we ensure that an organization is trustworthy, resilient and innovative? For that we need to go inside the triangle in Diagram 1 to find four enablers: integral thinking, success, purpose and scalability:
- Integral thinking requires leaders to incorporate both negative and positive externalities into their business reporting within the context of planetary boundaries and social floors, to be genuinely sustainable. This results in „True Materiality“.
- Success in the 21st century will not be measured purely in financial terms.Through the integration of the seven capitals, we can arrive at the True Future Value of any decision or investment, thereby providing a trustworthy indicator of where an organization should focus its efforts.
- Purpose is needed to align organizational stakeholders toward a North Star that enables the web of stakeholders and their business ecosystems to realise their True Future Value creating potential as an interconnected system of mutually satisfying promises delivered and commitments met.
- Scalability enables the fruits of True Future Value generating innovations to „cross the chasm“ from the early adopters to the mainstream markets to go truly global, resulting in world enhancing outcomes.
Reporting standards and the sustainable development goals have the power to shape the governance frameworks which determine how value is perceived and created in our economy. Business leaders, investors and consumers need to trust that their decisions are contrubuting to True Future Value, not just doing less or no harm. By being able to measure what „Doing well by doing good“ really means for all stakeholders in an organization, the ThriveAbility Governance Framework and Index offers us the opportunity to move rapidly to a regenerative inclusive economy- a world where promises are delivered in ways that rebuild our trust in ourselves, each other and the possibility of a thriving future.
KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz (Founder/CEO Sustainable Life Media, producers of Sustainable Brands)
In 2006, Sustainable Brands launched out of a belief that the pathway to a flourishing future depends on our ability to successfully shift our businesses and the global economy beyond those models that enabled success during the industrial age and toward something new, and more evolved. We recognized that while the industrial age delivered significant improvements in prosperity around the globe through the design of business systems focused on driving efficiency from mechanistic models of operating and the development of silos of expertise, it also produced a raft of unintended consequences brought about largely by the loss of our up till then natural aptitude for being conscious and sensitive to the interconnectedness of things.
Today, we find ourselves faced with a compound set of crisis resulting from the unchecked exuberance of our construction of a consumer economy. Our highly efficient, take, make, waste based economic engine has left us with dangerously depleted natural resources, concerning levels of toxic waste, rising temperatures and sea levels, and a rampant decline in biodiversity — all of which have has put our very survival at risk. Perhaps even more insidious is the way we’ve slowly redefined the role of humanity, away from that of citizens tasked with being stewards of our common well-being, and toward being simply a cog in the economic machine, tasked only with buying and consuming more in order to feed what some would define as a somewhat cancerous economy which seems now to have become dependent on over consumption beyond the needs of health and happiness.
Now is the time to turn our ship back toward healthier modes of commerce and consumption based on a ressurgence and deepening of our ability to see and think in systems. We have complex challenges to face, partly of our own creation. At Sustainable Brands, however, four key beliefs, supported by mounting research and evidence, encourage us and give us hope for the future:
- We believe and see growing evidence that humans are actually wired for good, and that we generally desire to learn, solve problems and to leave the world a better place than we found it.
- We believe that business as an institution is uniquely equipped to innovate and create new forms of value in the world. Once we recognize a problem, and can connect solutions to the potential for economic return, we are well equipped to act.
- We believe brands — which are essentially the promises made by business to their stakeholders about what they aim to deliver, are uniquely equipped to help shift our global aspirations back toward health. We have it in our capacity to help nurture a shift back toward our now latent, but yearning to be reengaged higher selves, offering more systems conscious models that acknowledge our growing awareness of the interconnectedness of things. And maybe most importantly,
- The available knowledge and growing set of models and tools to help us get where we need to go are exploding all around us.
Ralph’s booklet Integral Thinking & True Materiality – A New Impetus Embracing Purpose, Success and Scalability, published as an e-book together with Sustainable Brands is a perfect example of the 4 bullet points mentioned above. It asks for new focus on purpose, connecting to the truly material problems to which we all can make contributions to; on success, in which the pathway to a multi-capital success measurement as a litmus test for delivering the truly material issues becomes blatantly clear; and on scalability, in which education, collaboration and advocation are so essential. Sustainable Brands embraces these ideas through the events it organizes and the services it offers. Ralph’s work helps us to level up our approach to business, and deliver against a new desire to fully account for all externalities impacted by our business activities, and ultimately to deliver net positive good to the world. The work of Reporting 3.0, GISR and the ThriveAbility Foundation, the parts of Ralph’s portfolio to deliver on the new impetus, are also presented and showcased in Sustainable Brands conferences.
Sustainable Brands is a global community of the willing — influential leaders in and around business who are committed to breaking through to new models that can enable a thrivable, flourishing future. We are happy to call this team of integral thinkers part of our community and to support bringing visibility to their ideas as together we search for the best possible solutions for transforming our world for sustainability.
Bill Baue (Editor, Co-Founder Convetit & Sustainability Context Group)
It has been my pleasure to edit this tour-de-force 6-part series by my colleague Ralph Thurm in which he lays out his vision for how integral thinking and true materiality can catalyze a regenerative and inclusive economy, leveraging the work of the ThriveAbility Foundation, the Reporting 3.0 Platform, and the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR).
In editing this series, I recognized the genius of Ralph’s triangulated conception centered on true materiality and integral thinking, as it resolves the primary outside-in and inside-out dilemmas in current corporate architecture.
True Materiality reconciles what GISR Founder Allen White calls “the artificial distinctions between internal and external materiality.” Internal materiality prioritizes that which impacts of the organization and its ability to generate value – primarily for providers (and extractors) of financial capital. External materiality prioritizes that which impacts the organization and its stakeholders, including their mutual ability to maintain wellbeing through ongoing access to vital capitals shared in the commons.
Ralph’s notion of true materiality bridges this divide, integrating both the issues that determine the future value of companies expressed in financial capital (with consideration of the multiple capitals), and the issues that determine the true value of companies by assessing positive and negative impacts on the common capitals that are vital to stakeholder wellbeing in terms of ongoing viability of these capitals within the thresholds of their carrying capacities. True materiality dismantles White’s “artificial distinctions” and thereby serves as the linchpin for assessing what the ThriveAbility Foundation calls True Future Value.
Integral thinking takes up where integrated thinking leaves off – in particular, addressing the inside-out dynamic. The primary object of integrated thinking, as conceived and articulated by the IIRC, is the external structures in need of integration – primarily, the multiple capitals. While Ralph’s notion of integral thinking certainly includes this need to integrate the capitals, it also transcends this limited focus on external realities by integrating internal dynamics as well.
Most importantly, integral thinking calls for mindset shifts, and equips us with the tools to map the center of gravity of our mindsets in terms of psychological and cultural stages of development. This additional depth transforms the more mechanistic approach of integrated thinking into a more holistic approach that accounts for both internal and external perspectives, both individual and collective perceptions.
In approaching this 6-part series, I find it quite remarkable that Ralph manages to address such a broad swath – both the shortcomings and the solutions – before us. This series challenges us to acknowledge the existential crises we face, as a corporate community and as a society, and to rise to the occasion by tapping into our human genius and resilience through inspiration and aspiration toward true thriving.