Thursday, September 29, 2011
THE enrichment of previously poor countries is the most inspiring development of our time. It is also worrying. The environment is already under strain. What will happen when the global population rises from 7 billion today to 9.3 billion in 2050, as demographers expect, and a growing proportion of these people can afford goods that were once reserved for the elite? Can the planet support so much economic activity?
Many policymakers adopt a top-down and Western-centric approach to such planetary problems. They discuss ambitious regulations in global forums, or look to giant multinationals and well-heeled NGOs to set an example. But since most people live in the emerging world, it makes sense to look at what successful companies there are doing to make growth more sustainable.
A new study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) identifies 16 emerging-market firms that they say are turning eco-consciousness into a source of competitive advantage. These highly profitable companies (which the study dubs “the new sustainability champions”) are using greenery to reduce costs, motivate workers and forge relationships. Their home-grown ideas will probably be easier for their peers to copy than anything cooked up in the West.
The most salient quality of these companies is that they turn limitations (of resources, labour and infrastructure) into opportunities. Thus, India’s Shree Cement, which has long suffered from water shortages, developed the world’s most water-efficient method for making cement, in part by using air-cooling rather than water-cooling. Manila Water, a utility in the Philippines, reduced the amount of water it was losing, through wastage and illegal tapping, from 63% in 1997 to 12% in 2010 by making water affordable for the poor. Broad Group, a Chinese maker of air conditioners, taps the waste heat from buildings to power its machines. Zhangzidao Fishery Group, a Chinese aquaculture company, recycles uneaten fish feed to fertilise crops.