Last week leading Sustainable development Charity, Forum for the Future, had their end of year drinks where they announced what they believed would be the trends in sustainability in 2011. As a graduate of their Masters programme the night provided me with an opportunity to catch up with fellow graduates and network with representatives from Forum’s business partners.
Head of Futures at Forum, James Goodman, presented to a packed room of CSR managers and sustainability leaders at Interbrand’s offices. He suggested to his captive audience that they follow the strategies below for 2011:
1. Focus on low-carbon opportunities
2. Drive value by embedding sustainability into core strategy
3. Build greater resilience into supply chains
4. Integrate ‘reverse innovation’ – innovation originating in emerging markets – into business models
5. Engage in two-way dialogue with customers to build trust and generate valuable market insights
6. Collaborate across the full value chain to co-create new products, services and business models
7. Map biodiversity related risks and opportunities
The strategies are logical and offer businesses both opportunity and challenge for the year ahead. But while many of the audience there represented progressive companies in the sustainability arena, I found myself thinking which of these strategies the less progressive companies out there, of which there are still many, could in reality take forward.
The first three strategies all make good business sense for any companies on their sustainability journey wherever they are. With Unilever, Walmart and Proctor and Gamble all making bold and ambitious sustainability announcements this year we are beginning to see sustainability become core strategy at some very big players which means others will follow.
This week saw the launch of barcoo in the UK – a downloadable app which allows consumers to scan products using their smartphones obtaining information on the sustainability of both the product and the company. Similar apps such as sticky bits allow consumers to scan products and find out what other consumers have said about it. Along with companies now launching Facebook platforms there is an increasing opportunity for a conversation between consumer and company to increase trust and transparency which suggests that strategy number 5 is already happening.
Reverse innovation, strategy 4, provides one of the most intriguing opportunities I believe to companies in the UK. Sometimes called ‘trickle-up innovation’, this is the concept of innovation used first in the developing world being adapted and used in the industrial world. This often means taking very simple inexpensive products from the developing world which may involve less packaging, less embedded energy and then selling them in the developing world as a more sustainable or eco friendly option. There has been glimpses already of this already in the UK market and it will more than likely increase.
The strategy I think that companies will have the most difficulty with, especially those at the start of their sustainability journey, is mapping biodiversity. Despite 2010 being the year of biodiversity there has been little activity by companies to embrace this year in their CSR plans. Valuation of biodiversity has proved a complicated subject with government bodies and academic institutes still struggling with how to put a value on biodiversity. It is unlikely that companies will grasp this with the full vision that is needed. Token gestures like bee hives, bird nests and hedges on company sites will be the most likely strategy towards improving biodiversity. Understanding its fundamental importance in supply chains and products is a subject that most will find very difficult. But if one of the pioneers or leaders who attended the Forum event finds a successful way for mapping biodiversity and demonstrates a competitive advantage for doing so then others, I am sure, will follow.