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RP Siegel headshot

'Flourish and Prosper' Takes Sustainability to the Next Level

Words by RP Siegel

This week I had the opportunity to attend the Third Global Forum for Businesses as an Agent of World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The theme for this year's forum is 'Flourish and Prosper.' The event, which was pioneered eight years ago by David Cooperrider -- best known for his work on appreciative inquiry.

As Barbara Snyder, Case Western president said, "We've come a long way from talking about sustainability to talking about flourishing." That sentiment was repeated several times on this first day -- that it is time to reach beyond merely sustaining, and time to stop thinking in terms of trade-offs. We need to be smart enough to include the considerations of people, profit and planet in everything we do, to synthesize these requirements into smart solutions.

There is another dimension to this, as well. The idea of flourishing, says Cooperrider, means that the energy for innovation must come from an intrinsic caring. It must acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things. Citing the Dalai Lama, when asked about corporate social responsibility (CSR), he said that 'responsibility' is not the right word. It's intimacy.

It's time for a transformation that means moving away from a preoccupation with the self and focusing on the interconnectedness. As the book "Flourishing Enterprise," written collectively by several of the conference organizers from the Case Weatherhead School says: "Flourishing is not anchored in mundane notions of continuity.  It is not about passing along what is now available. Giving future generations the opportunities faced by the current generation may not mean much if all we now have is the prospect of bleak material survival. Instead, flourishing is about the world for which we all yearn."

How we get there is not a simple answer and is indeed the subject that this three-day event, at which the many distinguished thought leaders and practitioners are present, will attempt to move forward on. One distinguishing facet of this gathering is the intent to go beyond sharing information, to form teams to enter into a series of design summits.

One step that keynote speaker, peacekeeper and former Finnish president, Marti Ahtisaari, says is required will be to "redefine the purpose of a company to that of creating shared value." Indeed, my first breakout group, when asked to visualize the world 10 years from now, agreed that a world in which such a shift in consciousness had become widespread would be one with far less resistance to adaptive change. Indeed it would be far more likely, as one participant said, "to be open to possibilities that are currently unimaginable."

We then heard from Vitamix CEO Jodi Berg, who, talking about "presenteeism," cited the current health crisis as an opportunity -- noting that wellness, including improved diet, could potentially save 18 percent of the current $3.8 trillion health care tab.

Naveen Jain spoke of using the power of innovation to move from scarcity to abundance. Expressing what I would call hyper-optimism, he said we will be multi-planetary in 20 years and there will be no place on Earth we can't get to in 1.5 hours.

One theme I heard repeatedly was the idea of visualizing an ideal state and then reverse-engineering it from the end point back to the present. Apparently, that had been the approach first used with the Apollo program. That is very different from the problem-solving approach which has been more commonly employed, since problem-solving tends to preserve the existing order. Jain made a similar point, asking us to question deeply whether a system that was not functioning was broken or if it was obsolete. That's the kind of thinking going on here.

Chris Killingstad, of Tennant Corp., gave us an example of the kind of synthesis I mentioned earlier with a floor cleaning solution, called electrically converted water, that uses no chemicals at all.

Bart Houlahan told us how companies that had met the B-Corp criteria had a 65 percent better chance. We also heard from Marcella Kanfer Rolnick of GoJo, makers of Purell, about how they had set a target to bring well-being to 1 billion people each day, in the form of hand sanitization.

Keith Hammonds led a breakout session about the Solutions Jounalism Network. The network centers around bringing balance to media coverage, rather than focusing on the bad news that people seem to be so fixated on. Research shows that a continuous dose of negative news leads to "learned helplessness," that people get tired of. 'Solutions' journalism is rgiorous, evidence-based reporting on responses to social problems."Systems only change," says Keith, "when people see the possibility of the positive."

Finally, Nadya Zhexembayeva gave a workshop on working with companies operating in an environment of resource scarcity. Using the metaphor of fishing in the ocean, she stated that many companies are oblivious to the fact that their ocean is running dry.

Increasing expectations, declining resources, and radical transparency are all applying pressure on company's ability to create value. They need to respond to this with "smart"solutions that not only meet sustainability demands, but also bring new value to the customer.

Some examples she gave include:

  • Rolls-Royce providing aircraft engine hours as a service

  • Mud Jeans renting out jeans for predetermined periods of time

  • Microsoft distributing cloud servers as furnaces

  • Sharing economy concepts like Floow2, which enables utilization of excess capacity of large scale capital equipment

  • Throw and Grow Confetti, which extends the useful life of confetti from a few seconds to a growing season.

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, of what has been a fascinating first day.

Image courtesy of the Third Global Forum for Businesses as an Agent of World Benefit

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.


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