Friday, 15 March 2013

What Does a Sustainable Economy Look Like?

Sustainability has been at the heart of SusChem’s vision and mission since its formation in 2004. But what would a sustainable economy look like? This question is pretty important when you are making significant investments in innovation and research. In this special SusChem News article Mike Pitts (right), Sustainability Manager at the UK’sTechnology Strategy Board (TSB), looks at the issue and describes a new tool, Horizons, developed by TSB to help organisations to think about sustainability and their future.

Multiple factors
A multitude of factors drive increasingly rapid change in markets yet, in general, the chemical industry is only comfortable in thinking about technological and economic trends. We have been trained to make molecules and tend towards business models based on making more ‘stuff’ and selling as much of it as possible.

At last year’s Annual SusChem Stakeholder Event I looked forward to 2050 and laid out why these business models are unsustainable and will have to change. The chemical industry has to develop to be the delivery agent for a sustainable economy, but what do we mean by that?

Our society and growth need to operate within environmental boundaries and build on fundamental social and political foundations, while ensuring that we deliver the essential needs for humanity to survive and thrive. It was this basis that led the Technology Strategy Board (the UK Government’s agency to accelerate business innovation) to map out what factors described this situation.

New Horizons
The result was launched earlier this week and is called Horizons. Horizons is a framework describing environmental and social factors that drive market changes; changes that must be taken into account to ensure that major investments on 15-20 year timescales and beyond are less likely to fail.

Horizons resulted from extensive work with the leading sustainability NGO Forum for the Future and it has been tested widely with experts and on our own TSB strategy and programmes. It is a powerful tool to bring the sustainability debate into discussions on markets and to prompt thinking about the opportunities and risks inherent in business plans.

For this reason we want to share the Horizons tool widely. The tool is now available in a beta version; we are still adding new content, case studies and functionality, but the factors, presented as a series of cards, will not change.

These cards are designed to act as prompts for discussion and with supporting information help highlight how these factors are relevant to the markets and supply chains for your organisation. Environmental cards such as pollution, ozone layer and renewable resources are clearly important to the chemical industry, but what about biodiversity? Equally social drivers such a skills and information have affected the industry, but are issues such as trust, equity and accountable governance going to be as, or more, important?

SusChem value
SusChem has shown the value of building in sustainability thinking to innovation and for many chemical businesses these drive the fastest growing parts of their portfolio. There are many examples on Chemistry Innovation’s Sustainable Design Resource of these types of sustainable chemistry innovations.

Horizons will grow over time into a valuable resource for applying sustainability thinking to innovation and we welcome your feedback on how we can make it work better for you.

More information
Dr Mike Pitts is Sustainability Manager for the Technology Strategy Board. For more information on the Horizons Sustainability Tool visit the dedicated website or contact Mike by email. You can follow both Mike and Horizons on Twitter. 

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