05 Jul 2012, 00:05
Most businesses are dumb. There I said it. Every single day they do dumb things, in dumb ways. Things that lose them money, damage their reputation, and undermine the shared environmental resources that we all rely on. Any genuinely independent assessment of the vast majority of current business models can come to only one conclusion, they are short termist, loaded with risk, environmentally unsustainable, and staggeringly resource- and energy-inefficient. In short, they are dumb.
That is not to say they are not also brilliant. Anti-business sentiment is guilty of ignoring the fact that modern corporations remain the most phenomenal crucibles of innovation and invention in the history of human civilisation. They have been critical to the delivery of three industrial revolutions in the space of 150 years – the original industrial revolution, the post-war consumer revolution, and the post-industrial digital revolution of recent years – and have created economies that deliver levels of health, prosperity and comfort that exceed anything that has gone before.
But none of this stops the vast majority of businesses undercutting their occasional brilliance with displays of staggering dumbness.
From the little things, like the office buildings that are cooled, heated and lit when no one is in them or the non-perishable goods that are wrapped in reams and reams of plastic packaging, to the potentially catastrophic recklessness that sees carbon-intensive firms pursue long-term investment plans they know will result in runaway climate change, the examples of dumb business behaviour are manifest.
We live in a world where no one bats an eyelid when BP's official outlook report predicts greenhouse gas emissions will rise by over a quarter by 2030. Just as we live in a world where you can still go to a supermarket that purports to be tackling excessive packaging and buy glass jars that are also wrapped in plastic. There is no other explanation: businesses can be really dumb.
Thankfully, there is another way.
The past five years have seen a remarkable awakening amongst the more progressive members of the business community. They have realised we were being dumb and they want it to stop. They want to get smart.
The vast majority of corporate sustainability plans are smart. They are driven not just by a desire to do the right thing for the planet, but a hard-nosed understanding that green initiatives can tackle inefficiencies, mitigate commercial and supply chain risks, and open up new markets and revenue streams.
Moreover, these initiatives are getting smarter all the time. New clean technologies and greener business models are emerging that promise to make the trail-blazing vision of a low-carbon, resource-efficient, sustainable economy a reality.
Smart businesses are embracing these technologies and business models and using them to shine a spotlight on their former dumbness. They are enhancing their margins, boosting their reputation, improving their environmental performance, mitigating their risks, and motivating their employees, all at the same time.
Smart meters and building systems are slashing corporate emissions and energy bills; smart energy systems are allowing firms to produce their own low-carbon power, reducing the risk of rising energy bills; smart travel and fleet policies are cutting fuel costs and improving employee productivity; smart supply chains are curbing environmental impacts, enhancing resource efficiency, reducing costs, and addressing reputational risks; and smart management techniques are tracking and analysing the performance of a company against all its targets – financial, environmental and social.
The problem is that correcting decades of dumb and unsustainable business models is not easy. It's not easy being smart.
Even the most progressive companies admit there is a long way to go for them to develop truly sustainable business models, while many of those committed to transforming their operations and phasing out unsustainable practices find there are countless obstacles that slow their progress. Making the business case for self-evidently smart investments and transformation programmes is often harder than it should be.
That is why this October BusinessGreen will host the inaugural Smart Business Summit. Building on the success of last autumn's BusinessGreen Leaders Forum, this one-day summit will offer the UK's top sustainability executives the chance to learn about the smartest technologies and business models currently being developed. It will give senior executives the inside track on the corporate trends that will define the successful businesses of tomorrow, the businesses that are quickest to turn their back on dumb, inefficient and unsustainable approaches, and build a smarter future.
The premise is simple: as a BusinessGreen reader you already understand the compelling commercial and environmental case for developing more sustainable business models. You are also pretty well versed in the smart technologies and techniques that could help your organisation bolster its sustainability credentials and meet its long-term strategic goals. But the challenge lies in delivering these technologies and business models, building the business case for them, securing the investment, and successfully deploying them in the most efficient manner possible.
This unique summit will bring together peers from across the UK economy, providing them with an invaluable insight into the best practices and case studies that demonstrate how these challenges are being overcome – how businesses are getting smarter.
We're lining up a great panel of expert speakers and a tailor-made programme that will offer a one-off insight into some of the most progressive businesses and corporate initiatives currently operating in the UK.
We'd love for you to attend. After all, it would be dumb not to.
ABOUT JAMES' BLOG
Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray