GEMI Sustainability Disruption Project

GEMI is planning a new Sustainability Disruption Project to bring together corporate sustainability leaders from across sectors to identify, understand and develop strategies to prepare for a wide range of possible future global disruptions that may challenge short to mid-term business sustainability goals, while creating new opportunities for leading organizations to position themselves for greater resiliency and success in the long-term.  

In 2019, GEMI worked together with the Institute for the Future (IFTF) to explore various external drivers, or new spectrums, of change that are likely to challenge companies as they strive to meet their business and sustainability goals over the next decade and beyond.

The resulting report – Future Forces Disrupting Sustainable Business – forecast a scrambled future of powerful new technologies, radical visibility/transparency, rising global turbulence and rapid social change where it will be increasingly risky for business leaders to force-fit new threats, or new opportunities, into old categories of thought.  While there are many opinions on what exactly those new threats/opportunities may be, leaders across industry tend to agree that new disruptions are on the horizon and that those relating to sustainability are likely to come much more rapidly and with greater impact than some might have anticipated in the past. 

While the exact nature and timing of such emerging disruptions is impossible to predict, we can anticipate that those organizations that prepare and create effective strategies for long-term operation today (beyond the career spans of individual people) will be the ones that are most likely to weather increasingly complex and volatile global systems – complete with new disruptions of increasingly frequency and duration – and will be best positioned for long-term growth. 

Business leaders will need to begin looking at their business and sustainability strategy through various possible lenses to be ready to navigate an increasingly complex, uncertain, and rapidly changing future environment. Those leaders who are able to identify and understand multiple, possibly divergent, implications of future disruptive events and who are prepared to act on those implications with clarity will likely be best positioned to lead their organizations through the challenges to come.

What will the GEMI Sustainability Disruption Project Do?

Today, corporate sustainability leaders face two distinct but related challenges: how do you keep your sustainability program going through disruptions, and how do current and emerging disruptions inform and alter your corporate sustainability program going forward. To help companies work through these challenges, we will lead project participants through a process via (4) quarterly facilitated, interactive virtual workshops.

The workshops will focus on:

  1. Approaches to keeping sustainability programs DURING disruptions. – what changes, what is maintained without change, what is leveraged with or by disruptions. And lessons for sustainability programs FROM disruptions – if you knew then what you know now, how would your program look different in the past?
  2. Implications for corporate sustainability PROGRAMS for the FUTURE. Looking at the program you have and lessons from the previous workshop, how should your sustainability program be the same or different going forward? What would be substantively different? What would be unchanged, but priorities or “packaging” might be different?
  3. Making those changes stick. The “half-life” of critical events is a well-known phenomenon. Once things settle down (into a new normal, not back to normal), exhaustion and relief often overtake good intentions. What do you do stakeholder engagement, internal and external, to make these changes real and lasting? How can you use goals and metrics to make the learning and changes stick?

How will the GEMI SDP operate?

The GEMI SDP will be led by GEMI members and supported by GEMI’s staff with the support of Scott Nadler, Nadler Strategy LLC. All activities will be led and supported virtually, until such time as it is safe to engage personally. We anticipate the project will kickoff in Q1 2021.

Join Us

Current GEMI Members will be able to participate in the Project as part of their membership contributions to GEMI.  Non-member companies and organizations may apply to join the project for a fee of $5,000.  To learn more about how to participate, please contact Steve Hellem at

Webinar: Future Forces that Will Disrupt Sustainable Business

Future Forces that Will Disrupt Sustainable Business from Security & Sustainability Forum on Vimeo.

In early 2019, the Global Environmental Management Institute (GEMI) and the Institute for the Future (IFTF) began a ten-year forecast project to examine the challenge of doing business in a rapidly changing world, where the definition of ‘sustainability’ is broadening every business wants to build and maintain a ‘sustainable’ business model.

The resulting report “Future Forces That will Disrupt Sustainable Business,” examines four future forces that are external drivers of change that IFTF believes have the power to upend today’s business models over the coming ten years. In this webinar, GEMI and IFTF leaders share key insights from this report.

Links to Other Content Referenced in Webinar

GEMI Releases New Report on Future Forces That Will Disrupt Sustainable Business

Washington, DC – Today, the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) launched a new report, Future Forces That Will Disrupt Sustainable Business, prepared by the Institute for the Future (IFTF).

“In 2007, GEMI worked with IFTF to create a ten-year forecast of forces affecting sustainability. While that original map of the future served as a helpful guiding document in the past, GEMI’s member companies indicated that the global changes that have taken place since that original forecast demanded an updated outlook,” said Bill Gill, AVP Sustainability, Smithfield Foods and GEMI Chair.

In early 2019, GEMI and IFTF began a new ten-year forecast project to examine the challenge of doing business in a rapidly changing world, where the definition of ‘sustainability’ is broadening and every business wants to build and maintain a ‘sustainable’ business model.

The resulting report being shared publicly for the first time today, Future Forces That will Disrupt Sustainable Business, examines four future forces that are external drivers of change that IFTF believes have the power to upend today’s business models over the coming ten years, including New Spectrums of Meaning, New Spectrums of Resources, New Spectrums of Time, and New Spectrums of Value Creation.

Each of the forces identified by IFTF in the report include several “signals of change”, or existing initiatives that provide examples from today and hints as to how these forces may play out into the future.

“GEMI appreciates the expertise IFTF brings in foresight – looking to the future through a systematic, plausible, and provocative lens. It is important to recognize that foresight is not a prediction, but that from foresight comes insight which can lead to action.  It is up to each organization to decide how to take action based on newfound insights gained from the foresight IFTF has provided to GEMI,” said Gill.

The report is built around the idea of full-spectrum thinking, a concept pioneered by IFTF distinguished fellow Bob Johansen in his new book called Full-Spectrum Thinking: How to Escape Boxes in a Post-Categorical Future. “Full-spectrum thinking is the ability to seek clarity across gradients of possibility—while avoiding the temptations of certainty,” said Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow, IFTF.

The report includes an executive summary, as well as an annotated presentation outlining each of the four forces and associated “signals” in detail, and is available at no cost through GEMI’s website at

“IFTF asks readers to grapple with these forces and to consider how each might disrupt their organization—as well as open up new opportunities.  IFTF’s forecast provides an outside-in perspective of key forces that they believe may impact GEMI members, and other businesses globally, going forward and is meant to provoke new conversations outside of today’s traditional sustainability considerations, whether you necessarily agree with IFTF’s forecast or not,” said Steve Hellem, Executive Director, GEMI.

Building on the foresights in this new forecast, GEMI intends to launch a new Sustainability Disruption Project to bring corporate sustainability leaders together to continue to understand and develop strategies to help business to efficiently respond and lead through emerging disruptions such as those identified by IFTF.  To learn more about opportunities to participate in this project, please contact Steve Hellem at GEMI.

“We expect that these four future forces will have different effects–and in different proportions–on different companies and organizations, but that together they will shape the world we live in over the coming decade,” concluded Bob Johansen.

GEMI would like to thank the GEMI-IFTF project participants for their contribution and engagement in this project, including  American Forest & Paper Association, Carnival Corp & plc, CBRE, ConocoPhillips, Dell, The Dow Chemical Company, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, FedEx Corp, Gannett Fleming, Ingersoll Rand, Lockheed Martin Corporation, SABIC, Schlumberger, Sealed Air Corporation, Smithfield Foods, and Waste Management.

About GEMI
The Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) is a global leader in developing insights, networking, and creating collaborative sustainability solutions for business. For over 25 years, GEMI has captured the vision and experience of global corporate environmental, health and safety, and sustainability leaders from diverse business sectors through the development of a wide range of publicly-available, solutions-based tools designed to help companies improve the environment and their operations, and add business

About IFTF

Institute for the Future is the world’s leading futures organization. For over 50 years, businesses, governments, and social impact organizations have depended upon IFTF global forecasts, custom research, and foresight training to navigate complex change and develop world-ready strategies. IFTF methodologies and toolsets yield coherent views of transformative possibilities across all sectors that together support a more sustainable future. Institute for the Future is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, California.