My commitment at the beginning of 2023 to write a regular blog about sustainability was driven by the despair I was feeling personally about climate change. I was looking for hope through stories of companies or brands who were innovating to make our world better.
A year and 25 blogs later, am I more optimistic? Yes and no! I am certainly better informed. Here are some of my reflections.
Sustainability Is Now Part of Business As Usual
Sustainability has become embedded in most businesses with lots of actions to reduce existing emissions. This is a good start. As a judge for the Irish Green Awards I can see how much effort business is putting into achieving the same or similar results – but with lower emissions.
Business now understands that in many cases being more sustainable can lead to reduced costs: energy costs have been a key driver in this. Companies like Coca Cola have lightweighted their bottles, offering cost savings for them as well as being an improvement in sustainability. Sending waste food to food banks such as FoodCloud is now a norm for many food and hospitality companies.
Business As Usual Is Missing a Massive Opportunity
Business guru Peter Drucker claims “the sustainability challenges are the greatest business opportunities of our time”.
Incremental improvements – “swaps” of less sustainable elements for ones that are more sustainable – are all very well. But they are not nearly enough to address the challenge we are facing. In taking this limited approach, businesses are missing out – and so is the planet!
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Chair of the Elders, recently appealed to postgraduate students in sustainability at Tangent, Trinity College Dublin’s Innovation Hub “not to forget systems change”. At the recent COP she called on leaders to be ten times more ambitious in their targets.
My impression is that right now so much of the focus in businesses is on meeting the legislative challenge of measurement of environmental impact. As Swiss sustainability expert Prof. Katrin Muff puts it, “We have been busy collecting and analysing data and innovation has fallen by the wayside”.
The legislative framework is very much to be welcomed but the focus needs to move beyond a measurement mindset to a much more innovative approach. And business needs to be aware that innovation can deliver a significant competitive edge and drive growth – as demonstrated by Schneider Electric.
One of the most thought provoking reports I read over the past year is the Futures Centre’s report on The Future of Sustainability – The Courage to Transform.
This report is about mindset, which as we all know is fundamental to how we react, make decisions and plan for the future. The report sets out four different mindsets in relation to the future – and what the future will be like depending on which mindset prevails.
The four are:
- Profit Supreme – emphasis is on maximizing short-term shareholder value and profits.
- Shallow Gestures – business broadly maintains a ‘business as usual’ approach with only incremental shifts being made.
- Tech Optimism – technology will, with time, solve the problems.
- Courage to Transform – a proactive, forward-thinking, innovative and courageous approach to addressing challenges.
Most of our business leaders would appear to have one of the first three of these mindsets, but reflecting on this report it is very clear that “Courage to Transform” is the only one of these mindsets that will get us to where we need to go.
Companies that have Demonstrated a Courage to Transform Mindset
Over the past year I have written about 25 companies or brands that are innovating to create a better world. Here are some of the ones that I feel have been demonstrating the innovative thinking that we need to move forward:
- Floodbase, who have developed technology to reduce the impact of flooding and reimagined the model for the insurance business.
- Mud Jeans, whose leasing model provides a circular solution to the massive problem of 85% of clothing ending up in landfill.
- Mikro-Tek, which has been harnessing the power of fungi to help restoration.
- Low Carbon Materials, who have created lightweight material to replace aggregates such as sand and gravel in concrete blocks, reusing plastic that cannot be recycled.
- Notpla (a play on Not Plastic) who are replacing plastic with products made from seaweed and other plants.
I am also inspired by the move towards co-opetition where companies who may be competitors have the courage to come together to cooperate and collaborate for a higher cause – in this case, protecting our planet.
A weekly blog (which can take up to a day’s work to research, write and edit) is not sustainable for me with my workload – so this year, my commitment is to write one or two blogs a month, and I’m very grateful to my syndication partner, Business Sustainability Today, for agreeing to make my work more sustainable!
Published on January 29, 2024
Author: Jean Callanan is a strategic thinking consultant and sustainable innovation facilitator. She blogs about companies doing inspiring things to create a better world.
SDG solution: SDG 9, SDG 12, SDG13
About ‘Green Shoots – Stories from Business for our Planet’: Green Shoots is a weekly blog by Jean Callanan that shares stories of businesses and brands doing inspiring and innovative things to address #climatechange and create a better world.