Professor Kate Kearins is a researcher at the forefront of sustainable innovation. She tells us what we could expect to see in our future.
"If we want a more sustainable approach to business we need to change the way we think. Instead of looking at the end of the pipeline, to dirty, damaging and dangerous operations, we need to think about what happens before that and ask what's underpinning those industries? It's financial services."
We point our fingers at the visible polluters, to the heavy manufacturers in places like China, Russia and Europe. But we need to think beyond that and see that financial service institutions (FSI) are underpinning those industries if financial service institutions (FSI) ran on the principles of sustainability, that is, if banks had clear and transparent sustainability policies about how they lend, and insurers on how they underwrite projects, then they would become a compelling force for change towards clean technologies.
FSIs are eminently capable of enabling systemic change and this is one area of hope I have for the future.
Another area of hope is the visionary ecopreneurs who try to be transformational in how they start-up and conduct their businesses. They dare to create businesses way beyond their resources and are prepared to let profit take a back seat to doing other aspects of their business well.
I'd like to see them grow into large operations. The original ecopreneurs were the hippies of the '60s who created businesses like Ben & Jerry's ice cream and The Body Shop. The new guys are building on this ecopreneur niche and there is huge global potential there, both in Trojan Horse strategies - buying into an ecopreneurial brand - or developing one from the ground up.
In the backlash to the recession we might see a rash of idealism. Based on historical events we would expect to see a return to people satisfying more basic needs, not the excesses of consumption. There may be a resurgence of the skills of old; a kind of back to the future.
This is part of the ecological sustainability mantra. I would like to think of a future with less consumption, or consumption of better things, but of course consumption itself has become a hobby and focal point of identity for some.
New Zealand can play into the global market by creating high value, niche products. We're not going to compete with China on a mass scale. Counting in the cost of the food miles would mean local produce and products could be more affordable so New Zealanders too can buy and eat quality, like Angus beef.
A continuing trend in countries like ours is the move towards a service-based economy rather than product based one. It might sound like pandering to the middle-class in terms of consumption ethics, but the production of the services provides jobs. Ultimately we are talking less materiality and potentially lower environmental impact for the same or even better levels of satisfaction.
We could then see a movement towards people not having to own a product but still gain its benefit. For example, a service exists where businesses lease carpet tiles and when portions of the carpet are worn the tiles are replaced. People buy a certain level of service.
Home heating could go the same way, where people buy an ambient home temperature, such as 19 degrees in summer and 23 degrees in winter, and pay a fixed monthly fee. Customers would see a constant sum of money going out of their bank account and the service provider is guaranteed a steady annual income. In a cold winter, they do less well, but in a warmer one they scoop the margin."
Sustainability. The new bottom line for business.
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