Making Sustainability Obsolete
Attending Sustainable Brands made us wonder how sustainability could become mainstream and come to represent the new normal.
Sustainable Brands is Europe’s largest event on sustainability and innovation. It was held in Paris, from April 22nd to April 25th and was hosted by Pixelis. Several members of our team attended— a perfect occasion to get new insights on corporates’ commitments, citizens’ engagement, impact funds and collaboration with startups.
The Gap Between Theory and Reality
As in many fields, what we should do isn’t what we actually do, mostly because the effort needed to implement new systemic changes does not counterweight the risk taken. This sentence sums up the first debate of the second day at Sustainable Brand, as well as the general feeling we got there during the whole event.
The debate’s theme, “Is sustainable capitalism an opportunity or a potential fraud?”, was the starting point for a conversation between Clara Gaymard, ex-CEO of General Electrics and co-founder of RAISE, and Michel Bauwens, a specialist of peer-to-peer economics and theoretician of post-capitalism.
The debate highlighted the tension between theory, that feels both obvious and right, and the constraints put forward by industrials, with respect to their current activities, ongoing investments, and ever present competition, that make even the easiest of changes feel incredibly difficult.
Global sharing, changes in accounting systems to include externalities or the involvement of citizens are all great simple ideas, but can be hard for a single actor to implement. But maybe it is the word “single” here that needs to be changed.
Collaboration Makes Sense For Businesses
Traditionally, a collaboration between two competitors rarely makes sense, because trust is not strong enough to build a positive relationship, or because they scarcely feel like they are facing a common enemy. This has been true in business in many fields, except when natural monopolies are created, because this structure creates an economic advantage.
But today, climate change, resources scarcity, and global inequality rises are the symptoms of a common disease affecting our world. As often in History, leaders are now coming together to face a common threat.
The LOOP project, supported by Terra Cycle, is proof that cooperation can be real. This initiative managed to make more than 25 corporations sit at the same table to discuss how they could use their firepower to get closer to a fully circular economy.
At the same time, corporations also understood that they need fresh visions to be shaken up and get the opportunity to really act quickly to transform the way they do business. This is why they also team up with smaller, faster structures. French Impact tries to foster such collaborations - a great example is the cooperation between Unibail x Phenix to improve waste management.
Impact Funds Enter The Playing Field!
New financial systems arise as well as investors making impact and sustainability top priorities in their decision making. But it can be difficult for a fund to really assess if companies are actually acting for a sustainable future because of the lack of available data. This is why some initiatives, such as the B Corp certification, enable funds as well as consumers to identify the good students.
We had the pleasure to see some interesting initiatives helping to have a clearer view, such as Impak, that provides a catalogue of sustainable products and services for consumers — and a way to promote responsible consumption.
Being able to assess the impact of companies and, even better, their different of each of their individual projects, might then be the key to real scalable sustainable innovations, coupled with bold initiatives that reward the best behavior of sustainable consumption.
Sustainable Brands was a great event to discover positive initiatives. We are only at the beginning of the road. On the very last day of the event, the Institut des Futurs Souhaitables asked the audience to project into 2040, using interesting “uchronia” methods. My projection? That in 2040, sustainability will be an outdated term for an obvious concept. And that Sustainable Brands will not exist anymore ;)