Industry-leading businesses eclipsing the old business mindset
BAWB Global Forum puts a spotlight on businesses solving global and social issues

Industry-leading companies embracing sustainability opportunities are eclipsing the old mindset companies that believe corporate social responsibility will cost money and distract from business, says David Cooperrider.

“In some sense we are living right now in two different realities,” he says, while referring to Charles Dickens book A Tale of Two Cities with its famous opening words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Cooperrider, Weatherhead School of Management professor and Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB) Global Forum facilitator, says sustainability is the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century and is not going away.

The old mindset, which he refers to as the “great trade-off illusion,” is being overshadowed by one industry-leading star by another. Several examples of this contrast were brought to light at the 2009 BAWB Global Forum June 3-5.

For example, during the forum week General Motors announced it was going bankrupt, while leaders at Toyota declared they are creating a car that purifies the air as it operates.

“Years ago, (General Motors) had the opportunity to develop the electric car and for some reason they saw environmental and global issues as a barrier to their business objectives,” Cooperrider says.

“Toyota saw these global and social issues of our day as an invitation to imagination and innovation as central to the strategic core of their business, as central to their strategy of a long-term company positioning itself for industry leadership, and we see that over and over again.”

Another example is in the mining industry, as a company in Canada recently announced it was going bankrupt for ecological reasons as well as poor management of public information. Meanwhile, mining company Fairmount Minerals was named the top corporate citizen in the U.S. and is growing at a 40 per cent rate of revenue a year.

“Even now in this recession period, (Fairmount Minerals is) a company where the employees are turned on and the place is alive with innovation and energy because they have adopted sustainability as a call towards innovation,” Cooperrider says.

Fairmount employees asked themselves what are the 10 biggest global problems and how can the company address them. An employee thought through the use of fine silicate sand they could create a low-cost water filter for the millions of people dying of toxic and putrid water, which can save lives and make a profit. The company prototyped the water filter, which has now been distributed to thousands of families in countries with distressed drinking water.

The BAWB Global Forum shared many stories of innovative solutions to global problems, with interaction between 600 participants and top experts in business, design and sustainability. Keynote speakers included economist Jeffrey Sachs, cradle-to-cradle architect Bill McDonough and designer Bruce Mau.

“So while the headlines today are all focused on the meltdown with our banks and the sub-prime mortgage mess and so on, there is a whole other story out there that our Global Forum is trying to put a spotlight on and I have to say it is very, very exciting,” Cooperrider says.

“We are living in this moment of several different realities and we believe, and data is backing us up, that the top rated stars in virtually every industry is going to being adopting — and they are adopting — this Peter Drucker mantra that literally every social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise just waiting for the pragmatism and the entrepreneurship and the great investment capacities of good business.”

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'Sustainability is the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century'

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