The focus on sustainability has definitely spread widely. Greta Thumberg and the "#FridaysForFuture", natural disasters and extreme climatic events - rightly or wrongly linked to environmental degradation -, the Covid-19 pandemic interpreted as an unequivocal signal of the limit of environmental violence and social injustice, are some of the keys that have opened the phase of mass sustainability. The new scale with which we will be confronted, however, poses new challenges, first and foremost that of designing and industrializing a "sustainable sustainability". Sustainable because it is balanced in terms of environmental, social and economic dimensions, i.e. the governance of the individual company (ESG), but above all because it is capable of generating processes that are self-sustaining thanks to the balance of individual benefits. Processes made by widespread and spontaneous behaviors as they are motivated by convenient returns for all actors in the ecosystem (industrial, social or territorial).
Some will only be discovered by experimenting with the new dimensional scale. Others are already clearly visible. For example, market variables. Consumer market on the one hand, financial market on the other. Markets that have so far been neglected in the development of "marketing plans" and "business plans" for sustainability initiatives and investments.
In consumer markets, generating value for the consumer over time is fundamental to the lasting success of a sustainable offer. That value made up of a ratio between benefits and costs that nurtures satisfaction, trust and loyalty. It is essential, therefore, that the benefit of sustainability, which gratifies and gives pride of place to social relations, increases in a way that is consistent with the other dimensions of customer value, i.e. without depressing functional and economic benefits, the latter referring to all the advantages or disadvantages connected to the cost-sacrifices that a consumer must bear in order to acquire and enjoy, on the whole, the value expected from a good or service.
In other words, the psycho-social benefit of sustainability does not hold up over time if it operates in a zero-sum trade-off with functional benefits and costs; for example, a package that is sustainable but not robust enough and therefore does not protect or is not easily transportable. In short, it doesn't hold up if it operates at the expense of essential and relevant performance for the customer. Or again, it does not hold up well, and only on the wave of initial enthusiasm, if the price of sustainability is too high or if other categories of costs, related to retrieval, learning to use, continuous use, disposal, etc., are passed on to the customer.
Think of the many sustainable offerings that, although psychologically and socially rewarding, perform relatively poorer or require an excessive sacrifice of time or other complementary activities to use but costly. For example, waste recycling systems that are too complex and not at all citizen-frienldy accompanied by implicit flogging messages ("if you consume and enjoy you must then suffer"). In short, sustainability in consumer markets will be all the more sustainable the more the design and industrialization of innovations - environmental and social - will be able to increase the overall value offered to consumers, balancing the differential benefits (which must first of all be effectively communicated) with the negative performance and cost differentials that they may produce. In this area, the key to sustainable sustainability are technological innovations (for example, in materials) and organizational innovations (for example, in logistics).
For financial markets, the challenge is in some ways similar, working on value for investors and stakeholders. And it's not just a matter of balancing the costs and revenues of sustainable innovations. It will be a priority, in fact, to rethink business models. Philanthropic levers alone are not enough for large scale. We need to start experimenting with hybrid models. The spread of benefit corporations, and therefore the allocation of significant shares of the value generated to environmental and social sustainability initiatives, is moving in this direction but must be well governed. Benefit activities are sustainable over time if they are real (profits and dividends generated to an extent appropriate to the size of the company) and intended for purposes consistent with the entrepreneurial purpose, vision and strategic mission of the company. It is also necessary to experiment with, and bring to a very broad scale, models for the enhancement of resources (skills and relationships) that the economy of sustainability and the third sector has developed in appreciable quantities in recent decades. There are many examples. From that of the U.S. Resolve (www.resolve.ngo), specialized in the intelligent surveillance of natural environments (natural parks for firefighting and anti-poaching purposes; mines for the control of illegal exploitation practices; etc. etc.) that has launched a technological start-up, impact@RESOLVE (impactatresolve.com), able to propose particularly innovative systems and services to the market, leveraging on unique skills, developed precisely in non-profit contexts.
Now that we have all accepted the challenge of sustainability, in short, it becomes a priority to apply technology and market intelligence to make sustainability sustainable.