This story first appeared in Fast Company May 22, 2012.
For a number of years, I’ve had a wonderful arrangement with the Sustainable Brands team.
Prior to their yearly conference, I interview and blog about the show’s keynote speakers. This exposes me to the innovations these business and sustainability leaders are presenting at the podium. And through my writing, I help bring their ideas, and the event, to a broader audience. Win win.
There’s a side benefit to my gig as well. I get a big picture of overarching trends on the CSR horizon.
These are insights any businessperson hoping to futureproof their brand would be wise to heed. While most of them are manifested in trials and pilots today, they might well be game changers tomorrow.
While attendees of SB’12 will be exposed to these ideas in a few short weeks, I thought I’d summarize them for the benefit of those who might not be able to attend. In the interest of brevity, I’ll release this as a two part series – stay tuned for the second installment just prior to the show.
Insight 1: Future Simple
Paper use is key to HP products. Unfortunately, eco-anxiety has led many printer users to fret over every page. This, at least in part, explains the rise of tablets and e-readers.
Rather than abandoning printers, however, HP has embarked on a twin track of innovation. Along with exploring radical ideas like flexible displays, the company is using education and incremental innovation to ease consumers into more responsible behavior. Double-sided printing, energy efficient printers, and partnerships with sustainable forest NGO’s like FSC are all examples of this common sense progress. Coupled with entertaining consumer education programs (check out the Lorax project), this approach demonstrates the viability of simple, common sense progress.
Insight 2: A New Twist On Values
In our conversation, I found the insight behind the project to be particularly eye-opening. As Dreher said, BMW was inspired by a small – but growing – demographic that seemed to exhibit a conflicting value system.
The green affluents, as Dreher labelled them, lived in comfortable luxury, but eschewed luxury vehicles to drive ‘downmarket’ hybrids.
The behavior didn’t make sense when you considered traditional affluent or green behavior. However, it pointed to a niche that could soon become a very lucrative target market. A market that BMW i is about to tap into.
Insight 3: The Future Is All Around Us
In the course of my interview with Gourley, he underlined the fact that the future is indeed all around us. The problem is, we haven’t tuned our instincts to pick up on it.
For example, the rise of social media was apparent years before the phenomenon went mainstream. As Gourley said, these billion dollar companies were once million dollar companies, filing for patents, staffing up, and going through all the motions of companies onto a hot thing.
As a teaser, Gourley then went on to venture that one of the biggest market trends in the coming years would involve online privacy. Are you investors paying attention?
The Insight Incubator
I find the Sustainable Brands conference an amazing venue for gathering, hybridizing and distilling insights.
People like Walter, Dreher and Gourley are there comparing notes, sowing the seeds of collaboration, and tuning their programs.
If your work involves insight generation, it’s definitely a show to check out.