Sustainability And Growth, Are They Compatible?

20/02/2012 at 16:09 1 comentario

Last week I attended the annual conference of the ESADE Institute for Social Innovation, which this year was about the connection between innovation and sustainability.

There were different workshops, one of them being about the concept of “Creating Shared Value“. This was the one I attended, reaffirming my conviction that CSR and Sustainability are compehensive concepts that go far beyond Porter and Kramer’s “big idea”. But CSV is not the topic of this post.

A question popped several times during the conference, and it remained unsolved on and on. It is a question that I, as CSR consultant, will often have to face from companies and training attendants:

Are growth and sustainability compatible? Do we actually have to “de-grow” in order to be sustainable? As CSR experts we need to have an answer to this interesting, fundamental question.

Yes, they are compatible. Personally I think that, apart from the fact that we shouldn’t confuse growth with prosperity or development, there are certain conditions that allow growth, ensuring a fair distribution and without putting our planet in danger:

  • Let’s concentrate on producing less stuff, as Gil Friend already pointed in his book “The Truth About Green Business”. The production of more and more stuff is consuming our natural resources until total depletion.
  • Let’s focus on producing more added value and more services connected to already exisiting goods. Goods should be designed in a way that they can easily be adapted to the latest technology, without having to launch a new product again and again.
  • When it comes to competitive advantage, the stress is on resource efficiency, rather than on the pursue of everlasting growth. It’s how a company manages its costs and how it uses its resources what will make the differentiation from its competitors.

And finally, some questions:

  • Is it realistic to expect that companies should grow year after year?
  • Shouldn’t the focus be on the profitability of firms, rather than on their growth rates?
  • Are we ready to accept that, in a scenario of finite resources of finite market demand, the only way for companies to grow is through mergers that will lead, sooner or later, to a monopolistic market?

Less stuff, more value.


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1 comentario Add your own

  • 1. José  |  24/02/2012 en 16:07

    I’m agreeing with you in general purpose of your post, but sustainable growth is an Oxymoron or a contradiction between two terms.
    The real solution is growing in non tangible value including new kind of services and physical products that could be incorporate in productive process with less possible ecological effect and reducing costs of new generation. There is a serious research to produce outputs that become to clean environment today!
    It’s impossible to grown continuously in a finite planet.
    Companies must arrive to learn that only with a responsible action in all aspects of their activities could arrive to equilibrium in their production without need to increase quantitative aspects but increasing qualitative products.
    Effectively: more value, less stuff.

    José Ruiz



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Juan Villamayor

Consultor en Responsabilidad y Sostenibilidad Empresarial (RSE). Economista y MBA radicado en Barcelona, con un perfil eminentemente internacional.

Es posible generar más valor mientras se aplican principios éticos. Al final todos salen beneficiados: las empresas, la sociedad y el medio ambiente. Eso es lo que yo llamo "Negocios Con Sentido Común".

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