Limits and Beyond: 50 Years on from "The Limits to Growth" - What did we learn and what's next?
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Future Fluency Brief

A quarterly compendium of insights, news, and resources for Asia Corporate Leadership Council members to keep abreast of corporate space

Limits and Beyond: 50 Years on from "The Limits to Growth" - What did we learn and what's next?

August 16, 2022 | Report

Fifty years ago, a small band of 100 economists, policymakers, former heads of state, diplomats, and business leaders came together with a shared concern and a central question: What impact would untethered economic growth, overpopulation, and industrialization have on the world’s limited resources – and by extension – the quality of human life?

To answer this question, the newly assigned Club of Rome group embarked on a two-year study in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT). These were early days in computing; and yet, by feeding large data sets into first generation mainframes, the team was able to generate 12 possible future scenarios incorporating trends in population, food production, health and welfare services, industrial output, and global pollution. The findings were presented via the 1972 publication of the Limits to Growth.

The report concluded that failure to make significant social, political, and economic adjustments, would result in economic and ecological collapse within the 21st century. “The most probable result,” the report stated, “will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.” (LtG, p. 23).

Insights for What’s Ahead

  • There is a growing body of evidence - and a deepening public narrative - that the legacy economy and commercial systems of the current world order, broadly defined, are destined for collapse.
  • While the probability and timing of this scenario are highly debatable, there is no question that commerce must become more sustainable and economics more equitable.
  • As environmental and inequality issues intensify, it is predictable - rightly or wrongly - that global business will be spotlighted for its culpability in causing the environmental and climate problems facing humanity.
  • Companies need to get in front of this issue and preempt looming reputational crises and/or regulatory crackdown, by exemplifying that unsustainable, legacy business models can be changed, and that profit-seeking commerce can serve all stakeholders. This can be done. It can start from within – with what we can control.
  • Establishing a corporate culture that overcomes the common human resistances to climate change response should be a bedrock of any credible corporate purpose agenda. Our workforce behavior is a “people power” that can propel corporate reputation and inspire change.

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Program Director, Asia Corporate Leadership Council of Singapore
The Conference Board

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