We are living in the midst of great change. The impacts of climate change, social issues, and technology are altering the way we live and work. Water scarcity, greater competition for basic inputs resulting from shifting weather patterns, and a growing population will impact business in far-reaching ways. E-commerce, telecommuting, and new technologies with positive environmental and social impacts are creating new business models and beating the competition.
Companies must future-proof themselves for the 21st century by fundamentally rethinking the definition of sustainability and its role in the corporation. This is no longer a fringe issue. It is core to business and will spell success for companies that craft innovation strategies catalysed by sustainability. Those that choose to ignore it are doomed to failure in the years to come.
3M, the American conglomerate best known for Post-It notes and Scotch tape, is positioning sustainability at the core of strategy. Known as a model for managing innovation and eco-efficiency – the company has slashed its toxic releases by 99% and greenhouse gas emissions by 72% – 3M is now actively imagining what the world will look like in 2050 and embedding sustainability in its innovation. The world’s most highly reflectivity mirror film that, paired with a regular fluorescent bulb, illuminates building interiors from sunlight is among its latest products. 3M Glass Bubbles, very small but tough glass microspheres with hollow insides to make polymers, are making cars and aircrafts lighter and significantly
Tremendous opportunity is available to companies that create value for both business and society by redefining sustainability, refocusing innovation, and bringing the two together to propel corporate strategy into the 21st century. Those that ignore it do so at their peril.
Our World is Changing, Will Your Company Survive?
Our population is growing – with 7.6 billion people on earth today our numbers are rapidly expanding. We consume natural resources faster than they can be replenished, and the emissions mainly responsible for climate change keep increasing. World energy consumption is estimated to rise dramatically in the next three decades and we continue to be plagued by social and governance issues like child labour, global terrorism, bribery and corruption, and global health issues. All of these are impacting business. Competition for water, lower yield crops, and higher basic materials costs are not just social and environmental issues. They are core business issues that will be central to strategy, growth, innovation, and profitability.
Companies have tried to address these issues through sustainability practices targeting the ways business impacts social and environmental issues. They concentrate on minimising their impact by becoming better and more efficient at doing what the company has always done and then reporting on it. Current corporate sustainability efforts are focused on risk management, reporting, and/or operational efficiency. While these are very important, they are insufficient to cope with the challenges of the coming decade.
About the Authors
Tamara Bekefi is the principal of Daedalus Strategic Advising, a sustainability-focused consulting firm that helps companies achieve competitive advantage through strategic innovation, risk management, and reporting. Author of numerous papers, articles, and white papers, Tamara has lectured at leading corporate forums and universities. She was formerly a Research Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Business & Government.
Marc J. Epstein has held positions as Distinguished Research Professor of Management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University and professor at Stanford Business School, Harvard Business School, and INSEAD. He has written or co-written nearly twenty books and more than two hundred papers, and has worked extensively with leading global companies on innovation and sustainability.