As regular readers know, Sense & Sustainability traveled to Seoul last month as a program partner in the 2014 K.E.Y. Platform, a two-day conference on business model disruption and innovation hosted by Money Today. S&S Co-Director Jisung Park delivered the conference’s wrap-up speech, which concluded a series of discussions moderated by members of the S&S team by encouraging seasoned managers and budding ecologists alike to take a wider view of sustainability.
At the heart of the talk, which can be seen below, is a perspective shift from sustainability as something we have to do toward sustainability as something we want to do. This shift follows the realization that sustainability and development are not mutually exclusive. However, for businesses, reconciling the two requires more than CFLs and recycling bins in the office: it requires viewing challenges like climate change, resource scarcity, and public health not as sources of new compliance obligations but as potential sources of innovation.
Jisung illustrates this point with three companies that have been able to successfully implement sustainable practices, one by altering peripheral support operations and two by addressing social needs as part of their core value propositions. Because in the long term, he explains, the market value of a product is roughly equivalent to its true social value, which accounts for added scarcity value and negative social costs, these companies have succeeded by anticipating social needs and minimizing negative externalities.
Jisung also provides insights into short-term sustainability success by highlighting the work of Harvard researchers Michael Hiscox and Nick Smyth on consumer demand for social labeling, as well as the success and magnitude of Socially Responsible Investing, which in 2011 accounted for over 3.74 trillion dollars in assets in the US alone.
Though sustainable development also depends on the efforts of social enterprises and governments, Jisung tells the audience, composed of CEOs and entrepreneurs from around the world, the innovation required to meet our evolving social needs must take place largely in the private sector. However, this action cannot occur without a new, broader concept of sustainability, one that we at Sense & Sustainability hope to continue developing and sharing with our readers, listeners, and contributors.