GreenBiz’s Joel Makower talks Sustainable Business in 2020

Quantis is honored to welcome Joel Makower as a guest voice to the Quantis Quarterly. As Chairman and Executive Editor of GreenBiz Group, Inc., he is a preeminent thought leader on sustainable business. 

In this vision piece, Joel shares some insights from 2019, offers some perspectives as we ready for 2020, and asks the questions that keep us all up at night.

Joel will also be sharing his thoughts in person at a special session organized at our Quantis Paris office on January 24, on his way back from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. He’ll share some fresh take-aways from the big event and offer a sneak peek of the upcoming State of Green Business 2020 report.

What questions will you answer in 2020? Join the conversation over on Quantis’ LinkedIn community.

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“Of course, it’s a both-and world, a delicate dance of optimism and cynicism, amazement and befuddlement, hope and despair. These days, that’s what being a sustainability professional is all about.”

Joel Makower, Chairman and Executive Editor of GreenBiz Group, Inc.

2020 promises to be a landmark year in the sustainable business realm. Besides turning the page to a new decade, it is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, arguably the launch of the modern environmental movement. It is five years into the 15-year trajectory of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a time when the world’s businesses and governments need to be done planning how to achieve its 17 audacious objectives and well on the way to actualizing those plans. This fall will bring a landmark United Nations climate conference in Scotland and another, focused on biodiversity, in China.

Of course, when it comes to sustainability these days, and especially the climate crisis, every year seems to be a landmark: new records set for heat, drought and storms; increased rate of melting polar icecaps; record deforestation; more species and habitat loss or degradation. And probably more inaction, or underwhelming action, by the world’s biggest economies and polluters.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Any number of bold measures on the part of corporate boards and political leaders and legislatures could help slow or reverse some of these outcomes. The continued uptake of renewable energy, the surprising ramp-up of the circular economy, revolutions in food production and carbon removal, and the technologies and policies that support these things — all could provide much-needed momentum and optimism.

Still, a lot of troubling outcomes are pretty much baked in, the result of decades of debate and delay by influential actors on the world’s stage.

And therein lies enduring questions for sustainable business professionals: Do we celebrate progress or bemoan the S.O.S. signals the planet is sending? Do we point to the leadership organizations, large and small, and encourage others to follow or berate the laggards in the hopes of moving them forward?

And, significantly: How do we keep from getting discouraged by bad news, or blinded by the bright, shiny light of the newest, coolest, greenest thing?

Of course, it’s a both-and world, a delicate dance of optimism and cynicism, amazement and befuddlement, hope and despair. These days, that’s what being a sustainability professional is all about.

There’s no better demonstration of this duality than in the world of sustainable business. Each month, it seems, there’s plenty to celebrate and berate. During 2019, for example, the stories were more encouraging. Here’s a sampling of what we reported on

But there is discouraging news, too, from fossil-fuels companies doubling down on drilling and fracking, to auto companies supporting fuel-efficiency rollbacks, to food companies tolerating deforestation for key commodities in their supply chains.

And that’s just the business news. Political leaders — in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America — are variously stalling or backsliding on their climate and other environmental commitments or, in some cases, actively dismantling them. And even a casual reader of the daily news knows that the human impacts of climate change are already devastating and likely to worsen.

How will all this affect the fortunes of companies and economies? No one really knows. And companies, for their part, aren’t necessarily speaking up — or preparing for the worst.

And there you have it: The good, the bad and the unknown about business and the environment. To be glad or sad? That is the question.

Ready for a dose of optimism to ring in Super Year 2020?

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