One clear message coming out of the BSR Conference 2009: Innovation is required."Green is no longer a hobby. It is a necessity, and a driver for innovation and new business models," said Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, in the closing plenary presentation on Friday.
This theme was heard over and over again during the three-day event that was attended by nearly 1,000 people from 40 countries. Calls for innovation extended well beyond technological breakthroughs: We require innovation in our incentive systems, in how we create and capture value, and in how we experience satisfaction.
Zhang Yue, Chairman & CEO, BROAD Air Conditioning, colorfully captured the latter point: “How to we get away from bigger is best and the imperative for always having more?” This provocative question is deceptively simple. It demands disruption of our current incentive systems, which in turn requires innovation and thus yields incredible potential and opportunities.
The good news is that innovation is the lifeblood of companies, even as the nature of innovation is changing. Hannah Jones, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Nike, called for open source innovation, encouraging us to share what we can to speed up the transition but hold close to the chest true value creation. Nike is walking the talk by making available their sustainability index so that other companies can benefit from their research on materials. Yet they remain confident that no one else has the design pizzazz to threaten their market share.
Throughout the three days of the BSR Conference, we discussed the tension many of us feel, knowing that significant change is required even if it brings disruption and uncertainty. We know that carbon is the "unstoppable steamroller" that heralds the end of the industrial era. But we don’t know what’s next, and tomorrow isn’t here yet. We still lack the operational business models that reward companies for selling less or utilizing "expensive" low carbon technologies. And change is never smooth.
But in the end, companies that can do the equivalent of rubbing their tummies while patting their heads—innovating products, services, and business models for tomorrow while excelling in the current choppy environment—will be the nimble winners.