Don’t stop for breath now.

Recessions are well known for spawning new ideas and new empires that rise phoenix-like from the flames.  This one has been no exception.  A whole new economy, the sharing economy, has emerged. Companies like Airbnb, born in the early days of the downturn, appeal to a generation wanting a little more of that human touch, not to mention great value.  Thanks to Airbnb’s digital connections, a globetrotter from Lima, can now find a reasonable room in London, Los Angeles or Lisbon.

The world that entered recession is not the one leaving it. Economic turbulence brought with it cultural and social change on multiple levels. This may prove to be just as unsettling. The status quo is no more. To survive, we must embrace the change.

Recessions are well known for spawning new ideas, and this one has been no exception. A whole new economy, the sharing economy, has emerged. Companies such as Airbnb, born in the early days of the downturn, appeal to a generation wanting a little more of that human touch, not to mention value for money. Thanks to Airbnb’s digital connections, a globetrotter from Lima can now find a reasonable room in London, Los Angeles or Lisbon.

We’re seeing not just a new economy and new companies, but also individuals empowered by the potential of digital communications, reaching out to likeminded people from the next town, the next state or country, creating movements for change. Thanks to the advent of organizations like Purpose.com, which enables social movements on issues – from marriage equality to poverty – our friend from Lima can now link with Londoners and Angelenos to raise their voices, together.

Many of the pioneers of these online social phenomena are a new generation. They reached adulthood during the global economic downturn. This generation of Millennials thinks differently, has different expectations and is highly connected. They know how to make their voices heard by friends and family, governments and companies. And they want, and expect, a wider positive outcome for our society and our planet from their purchasing decisions, not just more stuff. They also demand a much more open and honest relationship.

For the enlightened, this coming consumer spring is a fantastic opportunity to listen and engage. Corporates that open up will build trust – a most precious commodity, badly damaged during the crisis. But whereas trust fell, the price of many commodities has risen. Five years on and the world has many more millions of mouths to feed. From finite resources that simply won’t last forever, the resource crunch is biting now like never before. Water scarcity, food scarcity and the ever more tempestuous weather have made us realize the fragile relationship with our collective home.

I see a vital role for communications technology to help drive efficiencies in resource use, and also in helping us to understand the interactions between resources. For example, in putting networks of sensory systems which provide early warning for hurricanes, fires or floods, together with global mapping programmes such as WRI’s Aqueduct and Forest Watch. By combining the data we have in new ways, we can proactively manage our world for the future generations.

We can thrive and build a better future, but not alone.  When everything is connected, anything is possible. We must work together, communicate between generations and embrace the change that our economy is witnessing.  Working with the Global Agenda Council on Sustainable Consumption, I see a consensus forming that corporations need to take a lead.  Those that take up this mantle and adapt will thrive. Those that don’t may never take another breath.

Niall Dunne is Chief Sustainability Officer of BT and a World Economic Forum Young Global LeaderHe is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland.

Image: A company cafe in Taipei. REUTERS/Nicky Loh