18 May 2014

Reflections around the concept of “Sustainability 3.0” …

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I came across a very interesting article on the blog of Vivian Partnership, a consultancy firm specialized in sustainable development. This article, dated January, 2014 introduces the concept of “Sustainability 3.0” … referring to “Web 2.0 coined in 1999 to define the interactive, social web we have today rather than the static content presentation of the 20th Century

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What get their vision exciting – and credible in my sense – is the next disruption they introduce in the way to address a sustainable strategy at a large scale. In a few words, it’s time to “take the discussion outside the sustainability bubble. I definitely approve this idea : the debate around sustainability must include new stakeholders. As far as I am concerned, I would outline the urgency to see the financial sector more involved with more initiatives of responsible direct investing.

Some education seems to me important to help the public embrace the concept of “Sustainability 3.0” and I would like to bring my contribution with elaborating a little bit more what it means in my own view.

According to their authors, “Sustainability 3.0” will have 11 characteristics :

1) It will be integrated in to business practice not peripheral
Today, the sustainability matter is interpreted as an additional constraint and cost for the business, not as an opportunity and incentive for new revenues. The concept of Impact Investing has emerged as a revolutionary way of doing business with a real sustainable touch. Impact Investing consists in supporting business-models which intentionally address a social and/or environmental issue. This is radically different with just making your utmost to reduce the social and/or environmental harm, while not reconsidering the very fundamental strategy and objective of your business.

2) It will demand balanced not merely green approaches
Green approaches are sometimes misunderstanding because they might shed light on only one side of a more complex matter. Making effort to reduce environmental damages should not avoid working on how to get the consumer’s behavior more responsible. For instance, recycling is a good thing, but if we do not change our consumption’s habits, we continue producing an ever greater quantity of goods to be recycled. This might trigger other issues because recycling is scarcely 100 % possible.

3) It will focus on the mainstream not specific isolated segments
As mentioned in point 1), it’s time to roll out a in-depth sustainable approach in every industry branches, not only in easy implementable sectors like organic farming. The automotive industry is a good example where disrupted technologies should be actively developed, such as the water engine …

4) It will be about story-doing, not story-telling
Citing examples of recent success-stories is not enough and should not be taken as the easy argument of the market leaders to say that things are changing in the right way. The market leaders must be the front-runners because this will give a indisputable signal that things MUST change.

5) It will have value not premium price at its heart
Sustainability is not a question of making more money, as many business managers expect it. It is the bias that has been observed so far. Because of a strong understanding of the benefits of developing a sustainable approach in business, sustainability has often been seen as a further line in the P&L (Profit and Loss) account, instead of being seen as a strategic matter.

6) It will be driven by responsibility not necessarily morals
Responsibility is obviously the main driver for getting a more sustainable world. But my question is : Does responsibility can develop and flourish without having some moral references ? I am convinced that there cannot have responsibility without educational background combined with some moral values.

7) It will inspire not lecture
As said in point 4, time is over where sustainability could be suggested as an option to the most committed entrepreneurs. It must become a core topic for everybody, not a nice-to-have.

Regarding the characteristics 8 to 11 (out of them “collaboration not confrontation” and “practical actions not intellectual theory“), the sustainability matter has got basically a worldwide and physical dimension. Confrontation will not lead to positive results because there is no common understanding and action to take on the way to address it. The failure of ISO 26000 in setting up a norm of sustainable business practices is the most illustrative example of the existing gaps in the definition across countries and culture of what sustainability is. The only way to achieve some enhancement is through concrete experience and pilot-tests, to run in association with partners. For instance, look at what Grameen Foundation has been doing with Danone, for offering affordable dairy products to the poor in Bangladesh.

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