To build the future, we need to imagine it. A perfect society will be one with greater opportunity, meaning, and balance, say Network for Business Sustainability members.
“If we don’t imagine the future we want, we’re never going to get there,” commented researcher Charlene Zietsma in “Why Business Should Imagine Utopia,” a recent NBS article. She recommends that business leaders regularly ask: “What will the world look like 50 years from now? What could it look like?”
Imagining a perfect society or “utopia” can “free you from constraints,” explained Zietsma. Then, the challenge becomes finding ways to make it real, starting from today.
NBS invited members to imagine a perfect society
NBS asked our community of business managers and academic researchers to engage in in a survey, with three questions: (1) what a perfect society would look like, (2) how their life or work would change, and (3) how they or their organization could move toward it.
We received 13 responses, roughly half from researchers and half from consultants and managers. Here’s what they said, in words and pictures. The word clouds identify the themes in response to each question.
A perfect society is more equal and ecologically sound
There’s greater equality and access to opportunity, NBS members said. Almost 2/3 of respondents described a perfect society as one in which “every person can have a decent life,” as researcher Elke Schuessler wrote. A decent life means access to resources, like quality healthcare and education. It can also mean the ability to influence government and other institutions. Researcher Charlene Zietsma, in her survey response, described “Leadership…shared among those with different perspectives.”
A perfect society is an ecologically sound one. One third of respondents described a world with significant environmental changes, particularly in the area of energy. “Innovation programs and government subsidies would create virtually free, perpetual energy,” wrote Taryn Mead of Western Colorado University. There will be “zero carbon transport everywhere,” wrote Giulia Cricenti of BSD Consulting.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals can serve as a framework for this world. A quarter of respondents referenced the SDGs specifically, but many more mentioned related concepts. A perfect society is one “that has attained the SDGs,” wrote consultant Bob Willard. “My white paper, “7 Bold Strokes to Save Our World,” shows what it will take to get us there.
In this new world, people will relate in richer ways, respondents said. “There will be mutual respect”, wrote Christine Moser of VU Amsterdam. “Communities will be stronger, with people willingly contributing,” wrote Sal Huddin of Waqia Services. People will view the world more holistically. “[There will be less focus on] the ‘economic value of everything’” wrote Rick Delbridge of Cardiff University, “and greater emphasis on environment, aesthetics and wider conceptions of value.”
People would have the “opportunity to not just live, but thrive,” wrote Kiera Murphy, a B Corporation consultant.
Our lives will have meaning and balance
In a perfect society, NBS members expect to have work that is meaningful — but takes less of their time. Almost half of the survey respondents described this kind of shift. “Full time work [would be] less work,” wrote Tima Bansal of Ivey University: perhaps a four-day week.
Additional time could be spent with family and community. “I would be more actively contributing to the community and participating in governance,” wrote Charlene Zietsma in her survey response. “I might be facilitating the civic participation of others.”
Work remains important, especially for those lucky enough to love their profession. But even those respondents would welcome the chance to balance work with other concerns. “My work could almost be the same,” commented Cricenti, “because I work supporting companies with sustainable development. But I could work less hours and also incorporate teaching activities. My family would have more time to be together and travel and less time stressed about work commitments.”
A perfect society would extend a sense of purpose and meaning to everyone. “People [would] contribute based on their talents and strengths,” wrote Stephanie Koonar of Peerspectives Consulting. Respondents may already have comfortable lives, but want others to thrive. ““My life wouldn’t change, but others’ lives would,” said Koonar.
Many paths will move us to a perfect society
For NBS members, utopian ideals are a driving purpose, not just abstract goals. They work toward them professionally – whether in academia or industry — and by modeling ethical behaviour.
University faculty use the tools of their scholarship. Through their research, academics can understand best practices for sustainable shifts. Through their teaching and outreach, they can share these insights with those in positions to implement. For example, Delbridge describes “mak[ing] the case for this form of economy and society… as we ‘build back better’.”
Consultants and managers also advocate for change, whether “creating an ESG mindset” (Estela Kurth of PUCRS) or getting a sustainable procurement process underway in companies and government (Willard). Utopian visioning can also be part of this process. “The company I work for could help companies to think about their own utopian scenarios and how they see themselves working towards the future they want,” wrote Cricenti.
Survey respondents also aim to act in ethical ways on a personal level — whether calling out injustice (e.g. “the old boy’s network”) or taking public transportation. Such action can achieve direct change, but can also serve as a model for others. “I try to give example more by my attitude than my words,” wrote Kurth.
Where is business in the perfect society?
NBS’s earlier article, “Why Business Should Imagine Utopia,” focused more directly on the role of business. But in the survey responses, business is less central than “people” – the most common word in the responses to our questions. People living, interacting with family, work, and community; people pursuing health, education, money, and meaning.
With the focus on human experience, institutions such as business and government appear less frequently. This picture might be different if more survey respondents came from the business world.
Perhaps a future, broader, survey will unpack how businesses can shape and support these visions of “the perfect society.”