Unlocking the Business Value of Sustainability Through Innovation

By Andrew Budsock

“If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be” – spoke the late Maya Angelou. At first, these words resonate with us personally, often hearing a similar message as we grow up; yet still, we find it difficult to bring to fruition. To bring ourselves, our authentic selves to fruition, as we fight societal norms, inequalities, and other social barriers. However, this lesson can be applied to business as well — and it must.  In the next 20 years, we will be faced with mounting pressures as population grows, giving way to an expanding middle class and unsustainable trends of rapid urbanization and consumption, all underscored by a changing climate, deforestation, and global ecosystem decline. At a macro-level, it’s easy for us to become overwhelmed when deciding how to prioritize our efforts as a global community. And, how will the private sector fit into this puzzle? Well, as Dr. Angelou would suggest, stop trying to be normal. What is normalcy, but masked complacency.

 

For these reasons, the theme of the 2018 Global Sourcing Council Annual Meeting was Unlocking the Business Value of Sustainability Through Innovation. Innovation creates something new or refreshes an old idea to make it relevant under new contexts or realities, like climate change or any of the other sustainability megaforces. In the past 20 years, we’ve seen the guiding hand of these forces steer the global business community towards implementing sustainability practices with the development of ESG reporting standards and now a more robust attempt to measure and track ESG-related data, such as efforts by CO2Logic on carbon accounting. With the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015,  these efforts have been embedded into the international policy agenda, so governments are now also tasked with developing policies to scale the SDGs down to the sub-national and community level. In addition to this formalized approach of organizing how businesses address sustainability, entrepreneurs with fresh ideas are playing a huge role in developing and developed economies alike.

 

One perfect example of innovative entrepreneurship comes from Paul Polizzotto, the President and Founder of CBS EcoMedia. CBS EcoMedia leverages corporate advertising dollars to support the work of the US’s most effective nonprofits. By placing a media buy through EcoMedia, advertisers direct part of their ad spend to support critical, yet underfunded, social and environmental programs. To date, EcoMedia has provided over $85 million in funding and resources to many of the US’s most effective nonprofit organizations, improving the quality of life for more than 36 million Americans. By developing a new business strategy, Paul Polizzotto’s EcoMedia unlocked new business value centered around sustainability, carving out an entirely new space for the business.

 

Two emerging technologies being leveraged for sustainability featured at the GSC Annual Meeting also included the use of blockchain technology by the IXO Foundation and the use of sensors and drones by Greenpoint Innovations (GPI).  The IXO Foundation utilizes it’s IXO protocol to harness blockchain technology to verify and obtain high quality data on impact. Not only will this enhance the level of quality and consistency of data available, it creates trust by eliminating fraud and corruption related to sustainable development projects. Consequently, IXO incentivizes funding and investment in sustainable development projects by enabling organizations to obtain proof of the impact they have achieved through their programs.

 

GPI offers SustainaDrone Solutions (SDS), an innovative suite of environmental sustainability oriented drone-enhanced technologies and services for the purposes of on-the-ground project management and creative stakeholder communications. By connecting stakeholders and target audiences to impact projects through stunning aerial imagery, GPI is innovating a new way of storytelling for sustainable development and other ESG initiatives in the forest commodities market. GPI’s high-resolution 2D and 3D maps, use a variety of camera sensors such as Near Infrared (NIR), providing important information on vegetative health, which is vital for safeguarding crops and other forest products. GPI is simply innovating sustainability from the air.

The common thread of each of these examples is innovation, or daring to go outside of the status quo to escape the tyranny that can be normalcy. And, it turns out that sustainability pays. In a Morgan Stanley poll of individual investors, they found that 75% were interested in sustainable investing, and 71% believe companies that focus on the environment and social goals will actually earn better returns. Those numbers aren’t too bad, and our guess is continued improvements to sustainability offerings in addition to continued penetration of technologies, like blockchain and aerial sensors, will only increase investor favorability of companies with environmental and social goals with better and more verifiable data on impact.  Furthermore, according to a Harvard Business School Study, if you were to invest a dollar 20 years ago into a portfolio of companies solely focused on growing their businesses, that dollar would have grown to $14.46. However, if you would have instead invested that same dollar into a portfolio of companies that placed more of a focus onto environmental and social issues while growing their business, that same dollar would have grown to $28.36. The evidence is clear and Maya Angelou was right: being normal doesn’t pay.