Fast Company’s – Fast / Profit Driven Solutions for What Ails the Planet

The March 2007 issue of Fast Company presents the Fast 50, a list of companies that are using innovative technologies and strategies to solve some of our planet’s biggest challenges.

The opening essay was written by Andrew Zolli, a consultant and futurist with Z + Partners and he does a great job in highlighting the evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility. Entitled Business 3.0 – The oblivious capitalist’s days are numbered, Zolli’s essay starts by citing Milton Friedman’s September 13, 1970 New York Times Magazine essay wherein the Nobel Prize winning economist argues that “the one and only social responsibility of business (is) to engage in activities designed to increase it’s profits.” Free-market, laissez faire economics at it’s finest.

Thankfully, today some business leaders see opportunity, competitive advantage and economic benefit in innovative strategies that can help save the planet.  Zolli writes:

Well ahead of slower-moving governments, companies of every size and in every part of the world are now waking up to humanity’s impending and interlocking crises, and the vastly lucrative rewards that solving them might bring

As with the Industrial and Information Revolutions before them, the protagonists in the “Eco-Innovation” Revolution will take the field with new approaches, ideas, and technologies that will upend our notions of production, consumption, wealth, and invention.

Zolli provides some interesting ideas for consideration: waste accountability leading to design for low cost disassembly; the LOHAS (“lifestyles of health and sustainability”) $227 billion market made up of consumers who are willing to spend a 20% premium on “clean, green products over nonsustainable alternatives”; and biomemetic and organic technologies such as Lotusan Paint and BAE Systems’ Synthetic Gecko. Zolli writes:

These products share one trait: They will win in the marketplace. Not because they’re eco-friendly or warm and fuzzy or have a Ben & Jerry’s seal of approval. They’ll win because they deliver better, cheaper, and more profitable results.

Seeking a competitive advantage through green and sustainable strategies is not really at odds with Friedman’s profit maximization model. Integrating social responsibility with corporate strategy can be good for business and for the future of our planet.

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Peter A. Mello

Husband, father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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