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Three Sustainability Insights and Innovation from Developing Economies

Rapidly developing economies are often portrayed as ecological laggards, focused more on raising their citizens out of poverty than on protecting the environment. But in markets where resource depletion is felt most keenly, corporate sustainability efforts have become a wellspring of innovation. To reap a payoff for their environmental efforts, companies in developing areas often follow one or more of three approaches.

  1. Take a systems approach. Investing in more expensive methods of sustainable operation in some areas may eventually lead to dramatically lower costs and higher yields overall. Buck conventional wisdom by focusing not on reducing the cost of each part but rather on increasing the efficiency of the system as a whole.
  2. Follow a bootstrap approach. Start with small changes to business processes that promise substantial resource and cost savings. As low-cost moves reap larger returns, businesses can expand the breadth and sophistication of their sustainability efforts. Over time, savings can accumulate and fund investments in new technologies and R&D initiatives that increase operational efficiency sustainably.
  3. Engage customers and suppliers. Companies offering sustainable products can sometimes sharpen their competitive edge by developing hard-to-emulate business models that boost the buying power of customers—and strengthen the skills and loyalty of suppliers.
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