Book Overview: Can Business Save the Earth?: Innovating Our Way to Sustainability

Book Overview: Can Business Save the Earth?: Innovating Our Way to Sustainability

If we address climate change, let alone our broader sustainability challenges, we need significant disruptive innovation across a wide-number of sectors. Will we be able to energize our innovation ecosystem to create the disruptive, sustainable technologies we need? Will we create the conditions under which sustainable innovations can flourish?

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The book is about how collectively catalyze business and markets to innovate sustainable technologies. Authors adopt a systems perspective, arguing that social sector leaders of all types—nonprofit leaders, policymakers, academics, business leaders, entrepreneurs—all play a role. There is no simply solution. Thus, this book is for everyone. Besides, it discuss how the innovation system works and provide specific suggestions on the levers available to each stakeholder to drive sustainable innovation.

Given the current political climate, it would be understandable to lose faith in our ability to address our sustainability challenges. We remain optimistic, however. Sustainable disruption is occurring across the economy even with the US federal government actively working to revive dying old technologies. Social sector leadership is critical to continue the path towards future technologies that drive economic growth, create jobs, and help secure a sustainable future. Working together, we can catalyze innovation in sustainable technologies.

The Innovation Imperative

Many scientists, policymakers, and business leaders argue that to address our sustainability challenges requires innovation on a massive scale. Simple calls to “cease and desist”—to stop engaging in activities that have negative environmental consequences—are neither realistic economically nor likely sufficient to drive us toward sustainability. Similarly, calls to simply reduce consumption, while sensible, are like the proverbial little Dutch boy holding back the floods by putting his finger in the dike. People will continue to demand products and services, and producers will provide them. Any reduction in per-person consumption needs to more than compensate for the increasing number of people in the world to reduce net impact. Absent wholesale changes in worldwide attitudes and consumption patterns, we need entirely new products, services, business models, and production processes that simultaneously create value to humans while minimizing, or even ameliorating, environmental impacts.

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The same innovation imperative exists for numerous other “sustainable” technologies: energy-efficient computing and electronics, low- or no-emission vehicles, green buildings and supplies. We define sustainable technologies as those products, services, business models, and production processes that reduce the environmental impact of these goods relative to other existing technologies. A sustainable technology in and of itself does not guarantee sustainability; rather, it promises to reduce the unsustainability of existing technologies. By continuously innovating new sustainable technologies, however, we can reduce unsustainable practices such as natural resource depletion and environmental degradation and increase the prospects for future generations to flourish.

Ultimately, the extent to which businesses will innovate disruptive, sustainable technologies is determined by a complex interplay between markets and various institutional actors: innovators who champion new sustainable technologies, investors who see market opportunities in these sustainable technologies, executives who steer large organizations toward profitable and sustainable opportunities, customers who are willing to pay for these sustainable technologies, activists who pressure businesses to invest in green innovation, and governments who incentivize new sustainable technologies through regulation, taxes, and other policy levers. Each of these players influences the degree to which businesses invest in and develop sustainable technologies.


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