WorldChanging highlights an article with P&G's director of corporate social development at GreenBiz. It echoes something I've been thinking about a lot of late: the need to use corporate responsibiliy/CSR to identify opportunities for business.
There is a danger for businesses who only see it as minimising risks and impacts. After so long the returns on reducing emissions and waste will be fewer and fewer, making the business case more difficult to identify.
The real scope for demonstrating long term value for corporate responsibility will be in seeking opportunities: what social, economic and environmental issues can you address with your core business? This is positive thinking, opportunity driven.
In 1999, the concept of sustainability was introduced. Because it integrated the social, economic and environmental issues into a holistic framework, we thought there was a potential to build business value around this concept.
The model we used was digital communication. The argument to senior management was that developing countries moved to cellular communications much faster than the North did; while only the rich lobbyist and stockbrokers had cell phones in New York, if you went to Mexico City, everyone had cell phones because the regular phones did not work. Not only was the adoption rate faster, but the developing countries will never build the same hardware infrastructure we did.
Based on these observations, we thought that there is a way to think about consumers we do not serve today, that if we design products specific to their needs and aspirations and the realities of their life, rather than transferring products that were designed for Europe and North America, that we could create large new markets. That was a hypothesis. The key was that we were going to develop products specific to those consumers -- not try to sell them what was left over from the North.
The challenge to P&G is whether they can deliver to this 'Bottom of the Pyramid' market whilst producing products that are more sustainable than current alternatives rather than producing more stuff that is less sustainable.
Customers in the South may want different products from those in the North, but quite reasonably they will still be drivers of greater consumption than at present.
If they can square the circle of developing new markets which reduce consumption and boost social equity they really will be delivering sustainable development.