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Kering Explains Why Businesses Must Establish ‘Planetary Boundaries’

Kering wants businesses to think big—really, really big.

In a white paper co-authored with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability, the luxury conglomerate explains the concept of “planetary boundaries” (PBs), a group of interlinking biophysical processes that define a “safe operating space for humanity” if not transgressed by human activity.

The idea was raised a decade ago by Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center in Sweden, who enlisted 28 leading scientists to identify nine quantitative boundaries: climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol loading, stratospheric ozone depletion and novel entities.

In tandem, the boundaries offer a framework that sets humanity on a course through this period of unprecedented pressure on the Earth’s resources while maintaining the “stable state necessary to support contemporary society.”

“Essentially, the planetary boundaries presents a framework that a business can apply to decision-making through the lens of thresholds and limits that are inherent to an ecosystem of any size, either local or global,” Kering, which operates Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent, said in a statement.

One problem? The planet is already in the danger zone with four of the boundaries— climate change among them. With time running out on the remaining five, companies must take action and mitigate these risks before all PBs have been overstepped with “irreversible and potentially catastrophic consequences,” the paper notes.

“The implications for business are large if efforts to avoid this are not put in place,” the authors wrote. “As resource constraints heighten and inequality escalates, markets will likely rapidly shift and consumer behaviors could change markedly. A continuation of the destabilization of the Earth system could create chaos for all sectors with the escalating risk of a collapse of the globalized economic system overall as a real possibility.”

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Still, for the PB framework to be useful to companies, it needs to be relevant to business activities. Although the initial reflex might be to “downscale” the boundaries and explore them within the company’s operating scale, the authors said, “upscaling,” meaning the local impacts of business activities are translated into the “global context,” provides more opportunities.

Scaling up the activities and impacts of a company from local to the global level can help a company better understand how—and by how much—they are contributing to the transgression of a PB.

“Upscaling is focused on building outwards from a single company’s actions and impacts towards the bigger picture of how it influences global processes,” they said. “It would mean that, for example, local site-based impacts of supply chain activities such as agricultural production, mining operations and manufacturing processes are expanded or scaled up to consider their contribution to variables, processes and, ultimately, PBs at a global level. This would encourage companies to be more outward looking and emphasizes the larger, global picture beyond a local or regional focus.”

Upscaling offers a way for companies to show how they understand the ultimate impacts of their actions globally, both as an individual enterprise and as part of a sector.

“It allows for companies to take a perspective on the interconnectedness and ultimate consequences of their impacts rather than taking a single issue perspective,” the authors said. “This broader approach provides the important context for them to highlight the positive solutions that they will implement and promote, and tends to foster innovative thinking and regenerative approaches as solution.”

“Linking Planetary Boundaries to Business” is the first in a series of white papers about how businesses can integrate the PB framework to manifest a “sustainable, safe and just future.”