I recently attended the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego. A truly inspiring and informative experience. Below presents the second in a series of posts based on insights from the conference. I would like to thank SustainAbility for their Model Behavior: 20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability.
#2 The big picture
Sustainability is a buzz word at the moment but what does it actually mean and do semantics matter?
Governments talk of economic sustainability pushing fiscal agendas that often do little to protect the long term interests of the people but fit neatly into voting cycles. Scientists and activists warn of the impending environmental crisis and suggest ways to break the cycle of exploitation and degradation that has led to economic prosperity. Health and social science practitioners champion the people; those who influence society, create systems and determine culture – the long forgotten face of sustainability.
It can be confusing to discern what actually constitutes sustainability but in the end it is the combination of these economic, environment, social and cultural factors. Sustainability is a way of comprehending risk and opportunity to ensure a vital future for all. It can be applied to business, relationships, education, society…anything.
True sustainability though, can only be achieved by looking at the big picture. Not shying from but embracing economic, environmental, social and cultural change.
For economics this means diversifying where funding comes from and how it is used. Most importantly, however, it is transforming how economic investment is valued. Long term vision is critical to overcoming the attraction of short term profit.
Options here include: crowdfunding, innovative product funding, pay for success, freemium and subscription.
Initially geared towards the creative arts, crowdfunding has experienced extraordinary growth for business purposes (92% in fact). As Forbes reports it has become an ‘incredible tool for entrepreneurs looking to launch new products and grow and scale businesses’.
In the environment sphere; science, research and development can be used to innovate resources, production and waste throughout the supply chain.
Options here include: closed loop production, physical to virtual, produce on demand and rematerialisation.
Closed loop production, cradle to cradle or circular economy depending on where you live in the world is perhaps the most exciting innovation is this area. Based on eco-systems thinking it changes the old linear line of production and waste to create a system where materials are continually recycled or reutilised through it. Waste in a closed loop often becomes the energy or new material source itself. Desso carpets for example, is a cradle to cradle company that takes back customer carpet to reuse or recycle materials.
Social sustainability looks at the sociability factors that motivate our decision making. Targeting social value delivers much more to the consumer by aligning with what they actually care about.
Options here include: buy one give one, cooperative ownership, inclusive sourcing, social enterprise and co-design.
Forbes (again), have reported that this year ‘mindfulness’ is one of the top six trends to influence consumer behaviour. More and more people are becoming aware and taking responsibility for their decisions and as such they are expecting greater opportunity from business to do so.
Championing the new shared responsibility for addressing societal issues; social enterprise businesses exist to benefit community and society. In 2013, Resource Recovery won the Social Enterprise of the Year Award in Australia targeting opportunities for long term unemployed, early school leavers, Aboriginal communities and ex-offenders. Achieving outstanding employment, skills and training outcomes for participants the company also increased profits by 20%. Significantly, BCorpANZ has just launched in Australia with New Zealand to also launch next year.
The final piece of the puzzle; culture is the most important element because it is the thinking that underpins everything else. It looks at why people do what they do, core beliefs and drivers and the optimal conditions to create sustainable outcomes.
Options here include: living systems models, values based business, alternative marketplace, collaborative economy, behaviour change and storydoing.
Creativity, acceptance, morality, confidence, growth, development and spirituality are much truer motivators of human behaviour than money and security. Considered higher needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs they provide a foundation for values based business strategy, engagement and communication. Chip Conley, founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain has specifically used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to connect with the higher of his employees, customer and investors. A transformational approach that steered the company beyond economic recession to market success and self-actualisation. Joie de Vivre’s staff-authored mission statement urges “creating opportunities to celebrate the joy of life.”
Image credit: Cloudy sunset by Eric Lynch
Title credit: Redemption Song by Bob Marley and the Wailers