Economic growth cannot come at the expense of resource conservation

Consensus that social and environmental value ought to trump shareholder value.

A survey of current senior business executives and “Leaders of Tomorrow” shows that the scarcity and depletion of natural resources is one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity today, and that social and environmental value should be focused on over shareholder value. The “Voices of the Leaders of Tomorrow” study was conducted by the Nuremberg Institute for Market Decisions (NIM) in collaboration with the St. Gallen Symposium (SGS). It surveyed 650 top talents from the international network of the SGS, the "Leaders of Tomorrow," and 250 senior executives from the world's highest-grossing companies about their perspectives on the issue of scarcity of natural resources.

The two generations of current and future business leaders agree that promoting the conservation of natural resources is of paramount importance and are urging businesses to turn their priorities upside down. 92% of current senior business executives and 81% of Leaders of Tomorrow stated that promoting natural resource conservation must be prioritised, even if it slows down economic growth in the short-term.

Furthermore, the majority of both Leaders of Tomorrow (83%) and senior executives (68%) believe that environmental and social value should be more important than shareholder value.

Leader of Tomorrow Ideja Bajra, 20, a student entrepreneur in the UK, elaborates on this belief: “Companies are increasingly integrating social and environmental values, driven by consumer demand, regulatory pressures, and a genuine commitment to sustainability. This shift, however, varies widely across industries and regions. While some organisations genuinely prioritise these values, others may engage in 'greenwashing' for marketing purposes.“

Additionally, both generations indicate that businesses, politicians, and consumers need to do more to ensure sustainable management of scarce natural resources. However, they also see an opportunity for businesses, with the scarcity of natural resources already acting as a catalyst for sustainable transformation processes according to 72% of Leaders of Tomorrow and 69% of senior executives.

The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, have each made growing the economy a key component of their respective “5 pledges” and “5 missions”, outlining their priorities for leading the country. Both have also rolled back on their respective green policies in recent months, with Sunak being accused by the head of the Climate Change Committee – the UK’s climate adviser – of “setting Britain back” on Net Zero by failing to prioritise green policies. Starmer also came under criticism for cutting his party’s green investment pledge by nearly half – from £28bn to £15bn a year.

Dr. Fabian Buder, Head of the ‘Voices of the Leaders of Tomorrow’ study at the Nuremberg Institute for Market Decisions, said: “Our findings demonstrate a clear intergenerational consensus that addressing concerns around natural resource conservation is considered an urgent priority. There is also agreement that on all levels – political, corporate, and consumer – we need to be doing more to manage resource scarcity considering the critical issue it presents, and it requires strategic foresight and transformative action.”

Felix Rüdiger, Head of Content & Research at St. Gallen Symposium, said: “To transform business in an age of scarcity, we need to explore the extent to which supply-side focused strategies of merely shifting resource exploitation elsewhere must be complemented by demand-side considerations – and a broader rethinking of business models – when addressing scarcity.”

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