How Future Scenario Planning Can Guide Your Sustainability Strategy in the Face of Business Uncertainty

November 30, 2017 | BIER

In today’s rapidly changing world, the uncertainty change brings can be nerve-racking for companies of all sizes—especially when it comes to sustainability. From resource scarcity to changes in policy, there are a myriad of unknown possibilities that could impact the vitality of businesses, communities and ecosystems.

As a result, many companies are consulting their figurative crystal balls in hopes of discovering what the future may hold. Of course, without a time machine or a psychic gift, you can’t predict the future with absolute certainty. However, you can construct plausible future scenarios based on data, trends, observations and collective insights.

Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) recently partnered with scenario planning experts at the World Wildlife Fund and the Business School of Lausanne in Switzerland to create a Future Scenarios Toolkit, which can provide planning guidance in and beyond the beverage sector.

Below we take a deep dive into the five key benefits of future scenario planning and share insights on how our toolkit can help.

Benefit 1: Enhances insight and sensitivity into how the future is unfolding
As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. When done right, future scenario development and planning can help you uncover the major variables that could shape the future of your business and our world, as well as better understand what’s already in motion.

“Companies need to be nimble; they need to be proactive,” says Julio G. Torruella, Global Sustainability Director for Bacardi and BIER Future Scenarios Working Group member. “From emerging policy discussions to local drought conditions, future scenario planning allows you to take stock of the current situation, and use that information to define a range of future possibilities and risks.”

BIER’s toolkit features four detailed scenarios that are built on two primary aspects that define the future state of the beverage industry, as well as many other industries: resource availability and governance strength. With these key considerations built in, you can gain real insights into how today’s trends will impact tomorrow and beyond.

Benefit 2: Facilitates contingency thinking and planning
We know resource accessibility and global governance will change in the next decade and beyond—affecting the way companies source, manufacture and package their products. What we don’t know is whether this change will be modest or dramatic.

“Future scenario planning is a useful critical thinking exercise,” says Stuart Orr, Freshwater Practice Lead at WWF, the global conservation organization. “It helps you develop strategies for extremes—as well as ongoing shared water challenges—so you can identify basin dependencies, mitigate future risks, and take steps to turn those risks into opportunities.”

Within our toolkit, you’ll find actionable tips to guide a critical first step in the planning process: brainstorming. This guidance helps you flush out and document threats, opportunities, and stakeholder behaviors and expectations.

Benefit 3: Helps focus attention on the trends and issues that are material to your business
No two companies face the same business and environmental challenges or risks. As a result, you need a tailored strategy.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Margaret Flaherty, veteran sustainability professional and Business School of Lausanne professor. “But by leveraging future scenario models, companies can analyze the political, environmental, social, economic and technological factors that are most relevant to their business now and into the future.”

BIER’s toolkit includes thought-provoking questions you can use to facilitate your planning at every step—from brainstorming to bringing new-found ideas into your current strategy.

Benefit 4: Prevents surprises and blind spots
Companies often struggle to accurately forecast their level of future preparedness. As a result, when surprises pop up, they’re usually unable to adequately address challenges or take full advantage of opportunities.

“This is about managing future risks,” says Jean-Francois Roucou, Pernod Ricard’s Group Director of Sustainable Performance and BIER Future Scenarios Working Group member. “Future scenario planning enables organizations to create thoughtful and more comprehensive risk management strategies, and put themselves in a better position to tackle the ‘what ifs’ if or when they become reality.”

The Future Scenarios Toolkit is designed to help companies evaluate their future planning readiness. With four pre-determined scenarios and supporting guidance, companies can uncover the strengths and weaknesses of their current strategy.

Benefit 5: Serves as a simple tool to use before you leap into business decisions
No company wants to be forced into making quick and potentially costly business decisions. With a proactive and adaptable strategy in place, you can take informed action as the future unfolds. BIER developed the Future Scenarios Toolkit to help companies do just that.

“This toolkit was designed to facilitate key decision-making processes to plan for multiple potential outcomes,” says Torruella. “Armed with the information you uncover, you’ll be able to evaluate your current practices, and develop an effective, efficient and economical strategy that fits your unique business.”

Discover Future Scenario Examples
Simply put, future scenarios are not predictions. They’re real possibilities that can be used to guide the development of a proactive and agile sustainability strategy.

“Since we can’t predict the future, we need to embrace uncertainty,” says Michael Alexander, Diageo’s Global Head of Water, Environment and Agriculture Sustainability and BIER Future Scenarios Working Group member. “Uncertainty is uncomfortable. But that discomfort can open our eyes to new possibilities, fuel more thoughtful discussions, and help us build more robust strategies to future-proof our businesses.”

Are you prepared for what the future holds? Download BIER’s free Future Scenarios Toolkit to kick-start your organization’s future scenario planning.

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.
By BIER [crp]

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector. Formed in 2006, BIER is a common voice across the beverage sector, speaking to influence global standards on environmental sustainability aspects most relevant to the sector, affect change both up and down the supply chain and share best practices that raise the bar for environmental performance of the industry. By doing so, BIER is able to monitor data and trends, engage with key stakeholders, develop best practices, and guide a course of action for the future.

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