by Scott James, Founder of Fair Trade Sports
In an airport conversation with Adam Lowry this month (he’s the Co-Founder and “Chief Greenskeeper” at the hip cleaning company Method) we discussed the state of CSR in North America right now. He had some interesting thoughts:
Scott: Let’s put on our international travelers hats for a moment; what country do
Adam: Both the Netherlands and Iceland come to mind. The Netherlands very specifically has been pursuing a “cradle to cradle” policy and building out the required infrastructure to support sustainability-minded projects like recapturing used materials from the waste stream to upcycle them back into usable products. I’d love to see US policy move significantly in this direction.
Iceland is also an amazing story. I was there in 2007 and during a dinner with their President heard the story of how they went from 90% coal imports in 1980 for energy to producing 100% of their own energy needs – including fuels – today with zero energy imports, mostly through geothermal. The President told me how it was small enterprises doing this innovation on their own until the country as a whole reached a tipping point. Amazing and encouraging.
Scott: Tell me about companies doing something in CSR that is a model for our future.
Adam: What excites me is all the businesses using innovation to make our world more sustainable. Forward-thinking companies like Terracycle where they upcycle industrial scrap into durable consumer products are fundamentally challenging the old manufacturing mindset of
“make it, use, it, chuck it.”
The most important step in innovation is adoption. A company like ZipCar makes it easier for citizens to get onto the sustainability continuum by turning product into a service and making the adoption painless. Brilliant.
Scott: How about our failures; where are we not succeeding as much as we could?
Adam: Incumbency breeds bias against real progress for sustainability. Very large entrenched companies who are the market leaders talk a big game with slick PR but fail to seek radical innovation, which is exactly what we need. As publicly-held companies under lots of scrutiny and short term performance pressure, it’s understandable that they feel the need to seek only incremental innovation. But we need to encourage ourselves to go beyond these half measures. My challenge to all my fellow US businesses is to take those radical risks. They are sorely needed. Let’s support new initiatives trying to change our governance structure like B Corporations.
Scott: What question are we as CSR leaders not asking ourselves that we should?
Adam: We’re not asking ourselves the hard leadership questions about how to ensure all our employees are as bought-in to the big picture change we’re trying to create. Too often we focus on the day to day decisions our businesses require of us and forget that we need be communicating how our businesses are going to create radical, positive change in the future. We know our employees – and customers – want to hear it, how can we do a better job of delivering it?
Click to learn more about Fair Trade Sports and method
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com