In the second quarter of 2017, I’ve been teaching a course on how to build a sustainable business at the EU Business School. The title of this post wasn’t chosen at random. It is closely tied to that experience and to my two most recent trips. I talked about the first one a few months ago (Coolhunting, projects and business) and the second, more recently to Copenhagen, I’ll talk about today.
But they aren’t only travel posts; they’re related to two concepts: sustainability and its feasibility for a business. I have to warn you: this isn’t an academic paper. It’s a post on my personal blog covering what I’ve learned, seen, experienced and the questions that have come from all this.
There are three points we have to look at when approaching the concept of “sustainability”.
Firstly, knowing what we’re talking about. Sustainability isn’t just about being more eco-friendly; it also includes human rights, labour rights and best practices, business ethics, etc. In fact, I also recently participated in a project that will soon see the light, analysing ethical issues. And it made me wonder, once again, what it means to be sustainable. And I’ve seen that ethics and sustainability go hand in hand.
The second thing to know is how this social trend affects business and which business models are derived from it. And here things get more complicated. The world is changing, but social, legal and economic contexts have a direct impact on the speed and direction of change and, in terms of business models, it is difficult to judge the feasibility of a sustainable business.
The third point is related to the skills of those starting up a sustainable business and their ability to connect with a wide majority of consumers who do appreciate the importance of “sustainability” to a greater or lesser degree but, as we’ve mentioned before, are conditioned by their social and economic situation. These situations often stop them from adopting this trend.
In Copenhagen, I had the pleasure of visiting and getting a first-hand look at what is going on at SPACE 10 , a living lab that is working to find food solutions to improve food quality, among other things. I was particularly interested in knowing what they are doing to address the demographic challenges we are facing (increased population over the next 40 years) and how to improve the consumption of resources resulting from these changes (such as, for example, helping the food sector use less water).
Initiatives like this are necessary and it is good that there are people who, beyond just thinking about it, are beginning to act. We just have to look at the United Nation’s goals for sustainable development and initiatives like the circular economy to see the importance of this phenomenon. However, reality is stubborn and the economic, social, cultural and legal determinants, as well as different lifestyles, are at times highly resistant to fully implementing the concept of sustainability (and, of course, to rolling out sustainable businesses).
In my humble opinion, we have to move towards this type of business and I don’t mean only in those newly created. The concept of “sustainability” should be integrated into existing businesses as well. However, as a sociologist, I know that change takes time and forcing consumers, users and citizens to adopt certain elements can have the exact opposite effect. There has to be a long-term strategy to guide and raise awareness, as well as improving socio-economic conditions. So, I believe it is best to promote small actions on a local level that are part of a global trend.
Changing habits, customs and lifestyles is hard, but these changes are necessary if we want to tackle global trends locally.