2014: year of the individual

With pundits busy predicting what the year ahead holds, I review their forecasts and conclude that it’s down to individuals to make the difference

The start of a new year can be relied on to herald two things. First, a desire to set some personal resolutions – drink less, exercise more and suchlike – which (in my case at least) rarely survive the end of January.

The second may last longer and be more productive: pundits get out their crystal balls and contemplate what the year ahead will bring.

Three caught my eye during January. From Asia comes a warning that labour disputes, natural disasters and supply chain risks will grow. From the USA, a more optimistic scenario describes employees coming on board through gamification and micro volunteerism, adaptation for climate change accelerating, and consumers expecting greater transparency on labelling and ingredients.  Meanwhile, from the UK comes a greener picture, with consumers becoming more savvy, environmental impacts like severe weather and air pollution changing attitudes, and a growing consensus about green growth being the future.

In similar vein, two of our guest contributors this month used their new year break to set out their hopes and expectations for 2014 – Mark Wakefield from IBM and Peter Gilheany from Forster Communications. A common theme between them and our other contributors (my colleagues, Thomas Milburn and Peter Truesdale) is the importance of individuals – as employees and consumers – in determining how companies behave.

But what about individuals as voters? What does the year ahead hold for governments? Some of the key moments are in the diary already. In Europe, elections in May mean most big decisions are on hold until a new Commission is in place. Nonetheless I’m expecting that proposals for enhanced company reporting on social and environment impacts will move forward, albeit watered down to limit the numbers required to comply.

On the international stage, the UN General Assembly will receive a report in September from the working group on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals which expire in 2015. This will give us a better idea about the extent of governmental support for the initiative and whether they really do want companies to make a full contribution. I’m hopeful the SDGs will be a lot better than the MDGs from a corporate perspective.

Less predictable is progress on climate change. In theory, a draft text of a new universal climate agreement will be on the table at COP20, the next UN Climate change conference due to be held in Peru in December, as the last step before global agreement in Paris in 2015. Don’t hold your breath, given the frustrations at Warsaw’s COP19 last November.

So much for crystal balls. As a wit once remarked, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” I prefer the thought that the best way to predict the future is to help make it. Optimist or pessimist, that comes back to us as individuals – as consumers, employees, voters, and ultimately as citizens – to make 2014 what we will.

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