Embedded Sustainability Blog

Posted: 23 August 2011
Posted by: Nadya Zhexembayeva

I have to say, it's been a remarkably hot summer. Our work on Embedded Sustainability continues to heat up – and the global temperatures seem to be doing everything possible to encourage us to do even more.

It is, perhaps, exactly why Chris and I are happy to share with you a new effort in this domain – a new book collection we will be editing for Business Expert Press, a publishing house specializing on books for executive education. Working with the executives has been a delight for us particularly because of the point of leverage. Often, a heated sustainability conversation in the morning would result in some phone calls back to the office already in the afternoon. That is the speed of change we are after.

So, we invite your submission to our Call for Book Proposals. October 1st, 2011 is our deadline – and we are hunting for a remarkable and deeply practical collection. You will find all the details here: Call for Proposals BEP Book Collection.pdf Shoot!

Posted: 28 June 2011
Posted by: Chris Laszlo

Will the heretical innovations in business needed to develop solutions to global problems such as climate stability and global poverty favor China, India, and Brazil?

Over many years I’ve had the opportunity to observe cultural differences in how managers approach sustainability. In Exec Ed classes across the U.S. and Europe as well in Brazil, China and India, the differences in receptivity and learning attitudes are stark. At the top of my ‘favorites’ list are business executives from emerging markets. They demonstrate a level of openness and willingness to adopt new concepts unmatched by their developed market brethren.

The difference in cultural attitudes reminds me of Clayton Christensen’s distinction between industry leaders and new entrants. According to Christensen, the former are less likely to adopt disruptive innovations than the latter. His point is that established industry leaders appear to develop a kind of deafness to new market realities. Are Europeans and Americans in danger of losing competitive advantage when it comes to embedding sustainability for business advantage?

Posted: 16 June 2011
Posted by: Chris Laszlo

When I want to reduce my environmental impact (or footprint), it probably makes more sense to worry about the house I live in, the car I drive, and what I eat than whether I choose paper or plastic at the check-out counter. Actually the right answer on that last issue is to use reusable bags, right?

But the point is to focus attention first where one has the biggest impacts. A recent study by Lux Research reminds us that “buildings consume 38% of primary energy in the developed world, of which heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) account for roughly 13%.” Imagine what a difference it would make to see disruptive innovation in HVAC systems that also make good economic sense.

Most builders and homeowners choose only incremental efficiency improvements in HVACs. Yet, according to the study, disruptive innovations are in the works with new technologies such as advanced heat pumps, absorption chillers, and evaporative chillers. Best of all, according to the study the new components offer fast returns on investment.

With a win for the environment and a win for your pocket book, what will you choose for your next HVAC system?

Posted: 19 May 2011
Posted by: Chris Laszlo

I'm rather embarrassed to admit that I bought one of the first large screen Kindles at the now seemingly ridiculous price of $500. As of today, Kindles go for just $114, and while the iPad 2 is still at $500, it offers alot more than just eReading. But even the current Kindle and similarly priced devices do not make eBooks accessible to low-income consumers, half of the world's population living on less than US$4 per day. That's 3.5 billion people... many of whom desperately want a chance to better their lot through literacy and education.


Imagine my surprise when I first read about a US$35 eReader planned for the Indian market... Then, a few weeks ago, one of my MBA students from India mentioned the likelihood of a US$15 eReader that would target rural Indian households. Now if only these tablets were produced in an environmentally sensitive way, we get another glimpse of what it might be like to meet the needs of everyone sustainably.

To read about the $35 eReader project, see http://goodereader.com/blog/tablet-slates/heres-a-tablet-from-india-that-costs-just-35/

Posted: 26 April 2011
Posted by: Chris Laszlo

In my yard today reading a magazine, I came across a two-page advertisement for Deer Park bottled water. Not surprisingly the ‘goodness’ of the product is described not only in terms of its “extremely selective… spring sources” but also its specially designed bottles: recyclable PET plastic, BPA-free, which now contain 38% less plastic than they did in 2006. Deer Park goes on to say that only 27% of PET plastic bottles get recycled yet, “if we simply doubled the recycling rate to 54%, the CO2 emissions saved would be equal to taking 185,000 cars off the road every year.”

Sounds fantastic, right? 38% less plastic? Doubling the recycling rate? But consider what the benchmark used really means. Since there are 700 million cars on the road today, 185,000 cars are only 0.0003 of the total. Doubling the recycling rate would really be the proverbial pin in a haystack. The comparison is even worse when you consider that the total number of cars (and water bottles) is expected to grow rapidly in the years ahead.

Which brings us to a question: are oil-based plastic water bottles, even if they use less plastic and are recycled more often, the appropriate answer? It’s a question not only of environmental responsibility but also about the size of the business opportunity to innovate profitable solutions.

Posted: 20 April 2011
Posted by: Nadya Zhexembayeva
As Embedded Sustainability is hitting the shelves, we are getting steady requests for conferences and media appearances. But here comes a surprise: the very first print outlet to feature the concept of embedded sustainability does not come from the field of ecology or society…not even general management…We are delighted to share with you the European Financial Review article on the subject – which also appeared in print in the April-May 2011 issue of the magazine.

That is good news for the finance community, I'd say :)

Posted: 12 April 2011
Posted by: Chris Laszlo

The 4 competencies of embedding sustainability?   Design. Inquiry. Appreciation. Wholeness. 

Nadya Zhexembayeva takes us on a whirlwind tour in under 3 minutes in the following YouTube video.

Posted: 04 April 2011
Posted by: Nadya Zhexembayeva
As Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advantage is hitting the stores in US, Canada, UK, Germany and beyond, Chris Laszlo takes time to speak about the key ideas of the new book in a radio podcast, including the distinction between Bolt-On and Embedded Sustainability, the Three Big Trends, and more. Part 2 of the interview will be soon available from the Management Issues website.

In the meantime, companies are showing more and more desire to experiment with moving from bolt-on to embedded sustainability. Here is the latest on Shell.
Posted: 21 March 2011
Posted by: Chris Laszlo

The all electric Renault TwizyRenault recently announced a two-seater electric car -- along the lines of the SmartCar -- called the Twizy and priced at only $9,700. The Twizy may be heralding a new chapter in automobile history. While critics point to the fact that electric cars are not "clean energy" when the electricity they use is from coal or other fossil fuel, they miss the point that electric cars get us off oil and can potentially be as green as emerging renewable sources of energy.

Billed as appealing to "busy, car-owning city dwellers looking for a second vehicle, as well as to younger drivers interested in a safe way to gain experience in traffic", this car is not for your typical Ford F150 owner. But the combination of all-electric and low price with European safety standards may be a glimpse into a future of personal mobility with fewer trade-offs between price, performance, and sustainability.

The Twizy goes on sale in 2012

Posted: 07 March 2011
Posted by: Chris Laszlo

This month HBR publishes an article by the global head of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company on “Capitalism for the Long Term.” [http://hbr.org/2011/03/capitalism-for-the-long-term/ar/pr] In it we learn that companies need to adopt a long term perspective, which is defined as five to seven years. What? Business leaders should address environmental and social issues for stakeholders, in order to create shareholder value, using a five to seven year timeframe? To quote Bill McDonough, such near-term thinking could in fact be pernicious, as it only leads to shoring up a failing system.

Setting five-to-seven year targets to incrementally reduce CO2 emissions may not be enough for an energy intensive business to stay competitive and meet new societal expectations. Water use, waste, chemical toxicity, and biodiversity loss demand paradigm changes in how business is conducted. So does global poverty. Tweaking existing business models and product designs – by making them only a little less harmful – will only delay needed change and, equally importantly, forego business advantage to companies who are willing to pursue game change. The challenge is for businesses to succeed in the short term with sustainability objectives that make sense in a 150-year perspective. One key, as we show in our new book, is what our colleague Andrew Winston has called heretical innovation.

A floor cleaning company that uses only ionized tap water with no chemicals, a cement company that captures CO2 instead of emitting it, buildings that are net generators of energy, fingerprint-enabled phones that act as bank branches in Africa,… the possibilities are endless for managers who know how to look.

What if sustainability was embedded into the DNA of your organization?

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