Sustainability not only represents a new way of doing things, but also an opportunity to be better than average and to take aim at bold and audacious targets. An average student will not find a job in today’s world, an average job performance will not get a promotion, an average organisation will not muster the support of its employees or customers. Organisations that aim at average are destined for tough times.
It many be tempting for an organisation to adhere to the lowest level of compliance, but it is smarter to comply with the most stringent standards or even exceed them. In the USA it takes about 2 to 3 years to develop a new model of car. If General Motors, Ford or Chrysler had set their sights on California’s Air Resources Board 2002 fuel consumption and emissions target, then today, they would be ahead of their rivals by 2 to 3 design cycles.
Elon Musk does not want his electric cars to be just a little bit better than General Motors, Ford or Toyota? With no marketing nor finished product, the 450,000 pre-orders (the largest pre-order for any car in history) that Tesla has for the Model 3, is not because it is only a little bit better than a Nissan Leaf or anything else in its class? Tesla has taken bold steps to redefine the electric car industry, and by leading the way, has created a product that everyone desires, and in a new industry that was once thought to be impossible.
While many organisations view voluntarily conformance to more stringent standards as cost-ineffective, it actually makes long term financial sense.
Sustainability activities in whatever form, fall into one of the following categories:
- Low effort with low reward activities such as green-washing, obfuscating unsustainable or harmful product ingredients, and compliance.
- High effort with low reward activities such as recycling, single use plastic products, and transporting water to drought stricken areas.
- Low effort with high reward activities such as solar energy, rainwater harvesting, LED technology, planting a water-wise garden, and purchasing a more fuel efficient car.
- High effort with high reward activities such as electric cars, water desalination; biodegradable ‘plastics’, renewable energy, biotechnology and biomimicry.
In order to move forward we must stay away from the low effort with low rewards category of sustainability efforts. The tendency to pursue low effort sustainability solutions that are based upon unsustainable values and beliefs has resulted in many of the challenges that we face today.
High efforts with low rewards also do not provide any real benefits as they exist because of workarounds due to missing technology or because of a lack of responsible leadership.
Low effort but high rewards should be on the top of our to do list. These are the easily implemented changes as it is often just a case of adopting new technology or make a behavioural change.
However, it will be the high effort with high rewards activities that will create the technology that is so desperately needed to solve the challenges of our time. High efforts with high reward mean creating something 10x better rather than just 2x better. Even if we have no clue how to solve a problem, thinking about it 10x better, allows us to let go of the past and look at challenges in a different way. 10x Better is 100x the value proposition, but never 100x more difficult to achieve, nor 100x more expensive to accomplish.
There is tremendous benefit in avoiding average or falling into the trap of thinking 2x better. We need solutions divorced from the constraints of the past, courageous solutions that take humanity one giant leap into the future, rather than shuffling into tomorrow.