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Execs Agree: Emerging Technologies Key to Business, Environmental Success

The four waves of environmentalism: conservation in the late 19th century; anti-pollution in the mid-20th century; market-based solutions in the late 20th century; and now, technological innovation. | Image credit: Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

Business strategy, technological innovation and corporate sustainability are increasingly linked in the minds of executives. 70 percent of companies are actively investing in technologies that help solve environmental problems, and more than 70 percent of executives think their business and environmental goals are more closely aligned than they were just five years ago, primarily due to advances in technology, according to new research from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Companies such as Allbirds, Bloomberg, Campbell Soup Company, Cummins, Inc., Google, IKEA, Mahindra Group, NRG Energy, Walmart, and Yardi Energy have reacted to EDF’s new report, Business and the Fourth Wave of Environmentalism, which examines how top executives view and use seven emerging technologies: blockchain, sensors, data analytics, mobile ubiquity, dematerialization, automation and sharing technologies.

Such technologies are driving what the EDF calls the “Fourth Wave” of environmental innovation and have the potential to transform industries, democratize information, make environmentalism a mainstream value, and make corporate-NGO partnerships more productive and their results more precisely measurable. According to the report, the Fourth Wave will be the most powerful wave yet, as it is expected to outperform the market-based solutions of the Third Wave. Impressively, 86 percent of executives agreed that Fourth Wave technology can help businesses’ bottom line as well as improve their impact on the environment — and that figure increased to 91 percent among those in the C-suite.

80 percent of business leaders believe consumers will start holding businesses more accountable for environmental impact because of the ubiquity of these technologies, and 78 percent believe that new technologies will compel businesses to improve their environmental impact on their own, regardless of pressure from regulators, consumers or investors.

“Innovation and technology are accelerating sustainability efforts from the factory floor to the C-suite,” said Tom Murray, VP of EDF+Business. “Executives are recognizing how emerging technologies that benefit the bottom line can also improve environmental performance.”

Of the seven technologies analyzed:

  • Blockchain and dematerialization remain foreign to about 35 percent of business leaders, although they are believed to have the greatest growth potential.
  • Data analytics is the most implemented innovation and also believed to have the biggest potential impact on an organization’s bottom line, environmental footprint and brand reputation.
  • Data analytics and measurement technology are seen as having as much potential to improve the environment as both cap-and-trade systems and major environmental laws of the 1970s.

“The same innovations that are changing our lives and revolutionizing virtually every sector of the economy can be harnessed to scale solutions to our most urgent environmental challenges,” Murray added. “Fourth Wave innovations can supercharge sustainability efforts by surfacing valuable data that was previously invisible, improving resiliency across global supply chains, and enabling powerful collaborations between industry, advocacy groups and communities.”

“I’m constantly thinking about where tech is going not in just two years but in five or 10 years – and what it will mean for the company,” said Dave Stangis, VP of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell. “Already, we’re seeing that some of the technology tools and innovations in the agriculture space are unlocking opportunities for our business and for reducing our environmental footprint.”

Conducted in partnership with opinion research firm KRC Research, the EDF survey collected responses from more than 500 VP, SVP and C-suite level executives at companies ranging from $500 million to more than $5 billion in revenues. Respondents spanned five industries – retail, manufacturing, energy, technology, and finance – and worked in functional areas including marketing, finance, operations, strategy/executive, and IT.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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