Sustainability by design: Building win-win propositions to sustain the future

Sustainability is a shared value and a collective responsibility, which is often defined by a framework of the ‘triple bottom line’- social, economic and environmental measures

Published: 05, Jun 2018
Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

There is no Plan(et) B. Until someone figures that one out, we need to sustain Plan(et) A and design thinking can certainly help the cause. The problem statement is clear - Many published reports have established that climate change is real and now.

Einstein once said - “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”

A new awareness is needed to acknowledge the urgency of the problem, its compounding nature and consequences; which means taking our foot off the accelerator, slamming the brakes and then trying to reverse the situation we have come to inhabit today. This does not mean that the path to sustenance is one of abstinence and austerity. Win-win propositions can be created to build a sustainable future.

Sustainability is a shared value and a collective responsibility. A framework of the ‘triple bottom line’ (social, economic and environmental measures) is often used to define this term. For corporations, I find the framework of 6 Ps beneficial to work with. 1.)    People - Building awareness, knowledge, skill and livelihoods.
2.)    Process - Turning compliance and regulation into an opportunity and making value chains sustainable.
3.)    Partnerships- Ensuring every member of the value chain shares the collective responsibility.
4.)    Product – Designing and building sustainable products/services over their lifecycle.
5.)    Profit – Innovating new business models to sustain growth responsibly and ethically.
6.)    Planet – Minimising our environmental impact and reducing dependence on limited resources.

These six Ps can be creatively toggled with to generate value-added interdependencies and create win-win propositions. For example, if you invest in people and skill building, you are likely to have a better talent base which enables you to build better products and hence make higher profits. If your process can help convert compliance and regulation into an opportunity, the likelihood of innovation in your business model may be higher, hence you may stay ahead of your competition. When every member of your value chain shares the collective responsibility towards sustenance, the cumulative adverse impact on the planet and our environment is minimised. When you design and build sustainable products, you might be passing on tangible benefits to consumers from a lifecycle perspective whilst doing the right thing for the planet. Similarly, if you run your business ethically and responsibly, you give back to your brand, which in turn has a halo effect for your people, customers, market and the industry at large. The opportunities are endless to correlate and generate value by connecting these dots in numerous ways.

Given that real estate is amongst the highest in resource consumption over its life cycle, an ethical and responsible business would make it a policy decision to design and build sustainable buildings that minimise impact on the environment.

There may not be a direct correlation to the market in terms of profits i.e. any extra spend on such buildings strictly from a profit standpoint may not be typically justified on the business side. There is also a common perception that green buildings cost significantly higher to build than those that are not environmentally conscious.

Imagine referencing the competitive Indian automobile market where the first question a customer asks, no matter the vehicle, is – “Kitna average degi” (What fuel efficiency will my car give me on a gallon of gas?). What if we asked the same of our buildings?

This could create a competitive self-sustaining market where people would be willing to pay for the investment and innovation required to make buildings greener and more efficient. Price realisation, capital appreciation and rentals would be higher for these products. Many others would enter the market; customers too would partake in doing their bit for the environment over its lifecycle and hopefully we would together make for a stronger positive impact on the planet. This would ring true to another statement that Einstein made – “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” - to create unique and exponential win-win propositions for our sustenance in this case

The author is EVP at Godrej Properties.

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