Saturday, December 3, 2011

Serious about Sustainability Solutions? Learn to break the ICE…

Last week I was in New Delhi attending a “Sustainability Solutions” Summit. Organized by Confederation of Indian Industries. Attended by more than 500 participants from wide variety of Industries, academia, government officials and consultants and entrepreneurs and students, the Summit was really an eye opener in many respects as Industry experts and Government officials discussed wide variety of sustainability challenges and possible solutions. Interestingly sustainability is growing strongly in India, and New Delhi is listening and appears to favor sustainable development going forward. In a land where the environmental legislations are rampantly evaded, Indian industry appears to have woken up to the business value of Sustainable development and the need for coming up with sustainability solutions to operate in this challenging vibrant Indian economy. The fact that many Indian companies now have a global footprint, it is becoming increasingly important to embrace sustainable business models in order to sustain. Sustainability is no longer a choice and it is no longer enough to comply. This Summit sought to find enduring solutions to 2 key inter-twined aspects of sustainable growth and development: re-creation of a green economy, and inclusive innovation.

However the key takeaways of the conference as gathered by me, were that sustainability solutions emerge through Innovation, Collaboration and Education which I have coined as the ICE and embracing sustainability involves what could be called as breaking the ICE.

Innovation involves creative thinking and connecting the dots. It involves being aware of consequences of business impacts and the unintended consequences of our actions. What we believe to be a sustainability solution today may have unintended consequences. Did we know that biofuels would create rise in price of corn or biodegradable plastics derived out of palm oil will give rise to unsustainable palm oil exploitation and harm the ecosystem of the orangutan? Innovative business models are those which are sustainable and inclusive and there will be no business in future that can survive if it is not inclusive and sustainable. Going forward all innovation will be sustainable social innovation. Social innovation means thinking about the organization or the business as a part of the society and working together as humans and going with the natural flow of nature. Social innovations are source of well-being and have shared benefits.

Collaboration means listening to each other with empathy and working together. When faced with complex problems of how much we have trashed the earth, which set ways of thinking cannot solve, now we see businesses, governments, customers, competitors all sitting together and putting their heads together to come up with solutions. Collaboration involves building bridges between different kinds of stakeholders and allowing ideas to develop freely. Collaborative platforms like conferences, in person meetings will continue to exist however collaboration is and will be driven by information technology. Forums, social media, IT tools will enable sustainability collaboration and drive stakeholder engagement.

Education is the key to the realization of innovation and collaboration. In this parlance it is sustainability education and awareness that I am referring to. Making more businesses realize that sustainability is not something that you adopt because it enhances your brand, it is rather necessary to survive in this fiercely competitive, resource crunched environment, and this by itself will be an uphill task. Here again IT tools are and will continue to be widely leveraged.

Breaking the ICE is not easy and education and awareness the key to innovation brought about by collaborative efforts of passionate individuals and businesses. With representatives from GIZ, WWF, CDP, WBCSD, Bureau of Energy Efficiency, and industries like Microsoft, Infosys, ITC Infotech, Tata chemicals, Tata Steel, Vedanta, Petrobas, Rio tinto, ACC Cement, Tata Power, Kirloskar Brothers, and ministers from the Govt of India, and enterpreneurs like Harish Hande from SELCO and thought leader like Gunter Pauli from ZERI this conference proved to be a perfect melting pot for sharing ideas and joining the dots for Sustainability Solutions in the real world.