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Find your purpose and you will succeed

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In late October, futurist Ed Gillespie visited the Posti Next event for a fervent speech about global changes. Gillespie particularly criticised Internet giants controlling the data economy. His recipe for business growth is clear: when you serve the entire society, you will succeed.

Ed Gillespie is a futurist, author and sustainability expert who isn’t afraid to address the big questions: climate change, data flood and the reason for companies’ existence. In late October, he talked about his views in the Posti Next event in Helsinki. This is what he had to say.

Datastrophe challenges climate efforts

Our everyday lives are getting filled with data from every direction. Of all the data used by humankind, 90% was created within the past two years. In just one minute, we produce four million Google searches and half a million tweets. Each minute, Amazon delivers more than 1,000 orders. In one day, we create a total of 2.5 quintillion bits of data.

“In the future, it’s going to get even wilder. At the moment, there are about 3.2 billion people using the Internet, but in two years, the figure will be closer to 5 billion. As IoT and 5G technologies become more common, billions of new products and things will also appear online,” says Gillespie.

Why is this an issue? Among other things, because the data tsunami that is just around the corner may consume one fifth of all electricity by 2025. In 2020, the use of digital solutions and data is estimated to produce about 3.5% of global carbon emissions – more than, for example, air traffic.

According to Gillespie, only 20% of the energy currently used to run data quantities and networks comes from renewable sources. That is why those talking about data consumption should also be talking about climate change, and vice versa. We must reduce the carbon footprint of our planet, and that means new technologies must also take part in this effort.

Platform capitalism in need of a complete makeover

Gillespie often uses the term willful blindness, meaning people’s tendency to not bring up difficult questions that they observe in their own environment. That is why companies investing in data are not in the front lines to discuss the impacts of the data tsunami on the climate or the protection of people’s privacy.

Gillespie believes that the major IT companies know exactly what a strong hold they have on everyone’s data and what a cartel they are running. Most other companies also know this but do nothing as they believe they can benefit from the platforms of the IT companies.

“We should get over the platform capitalism. As a consumer and a citizen, it is getting immensely difficult to trust Internet giants. They have lied about many things and bluffed their way into collecting even more data about us, often without the knowledge of consumers.”

Gillespie is not alone with this wish. The developer of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, also aims to decentralize the Internet, taking the power from the corporate giants and giving it back to the users. Mutually owned platform cooperatives are one solution to this problem. Berners-Lee has also demanded more regulation of data usage. He believes that GDPR is only the beginning.

“At the moment, you have no way of knowing where your data ends up, how it is used and how different operators are trying to influence you. In order for us users to have a clearer picture of what types of data we are giving to which recipients and why, the next step in the regulation should be the decentralization of data,” says Gillespie.

Sustainability means money

According to Gillespie, most of the Internet giants have drifted far from the ideals on which they were originally founded. Cooperation and the use of data for the common good should be in the core of their operations instead of merely increasing profits and stock prices. He wants to know the purpose of these companies, the reason why they exist.

Purpose is the core topic in Gillespie’s views. He directs Futerra, an agency focusing on sustainable communications and change, and spends a great deal of time helping companies find the answer to the question, “Why do we exist?”

“Why must companies find their purpose? Because our society needs them to. Because it interests the companies’ customers and increases their loyalty. Because the employees want to do meaningful work. Many companies focus on the benefit of their owners. The concept of profit should be extended toward sustainability, to mean profit for the entire society. Profit should be a reward for a company that serves society and does something useful for which there is human need.”

Gillespie emphasizes that sustainability and social purpose must be at the core of the company’s operations instead of being nothing but poetic words used as icing on the cake. When this becomes a reality, sustainability will pay for itself, with interest.

“About three years ago, Oxford University published a meta-study on the financial impacts of sustainability, compiled of 200 separate studies. According to the meta-study, the companies with sustainable methods are better investments and have better operative performance and relative price performance.”

Another increasingly popular solution worldwide is a benefit corporation model where promoting a specific environmental or social change is specified as the company’s objective instead of simple profit. According to Gillespie, in the UK, such “B-corp” enterprises grow up to 20 times faster than the GDP of the country.

“In recent years, sustainability has transformed from good deeds into a way to success. We already know that sustainability means money, but not all companies act accordingly. Perhaps they should give it a shot.”

Source: Ed Gillespie’s speech at the Posti Next event on October 30, 2018.

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