Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

By Emily Taylor

How will the next generation of leaders solve the world’s sustainability challenges?  We asked Erb/WEC Fellow Emily Taylor, who’s participating a new program created by the  University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise,  the World Environment Center and IBM.  

Emily Taylor, MBA/MS student, University of Michigan Erb Institute @esltaylor

Emily Taylor, MBA/MS student, University of Michigan Erb Institute
@esltaylor

As a graduate degree student studying business and sustainability, I am definitely familiar with the complexities of both business and environmental challenges. I am also very familiar with the tendency of others to view my two subjects in silos.

But according to the National Intelligence Council, never before has every aspect of our society been impacted by the impending scarcity of our non-renewable natural resources and climate change.  These megatrends are “certain” to significantly alter the way we live and do business by 2030.

Doom and gloom, right?  I thought so too, until I attended a  two-day roundtable discussion, with participants from several Fortune 500 companies, included auto, beverage, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, entertainment, heating and cooling, and technical and management servicesWith the purpose of sharing innovative responses to both assessing and mitigating the business risk of resource scarcity, this creative group of players are collaborating to problem solve for the best solutions to ensure their companies’ competitive market position of the future by reducing resource use and dependency.

From best practices in developing water management plans to hedge again future scarcity, to more efficient driverless cars, to launching new products to help homeowners effortlessly integrate energy efficiency practices in their homes using “smart” technology, there are fascinating efforts being undertaken in the private sector. And the best part – companies want to collaborate and learn from one another.

The roundtable felt more like a small-group workshop, with just a handful of serious innovators committed to the success of their companies and the success of the planet. Potential solutions included:

(1) Create new sources of resource abundance: There is an immense amount of technological innovation and discovery, especially through leveraging insights from big data

(2) Build new markets at scale through advanced analytics of big data to create new consumer coalitions based on purchasing behavior, preferences, and demographics

(3) Realign time scale to reflect to reality:  In addition to striving for short-term disruptions, also consider lengthening innovation planning horizons beyond five years, recognizing that obtaining greater efficiency could be a long-term play, but equally transformative in addressing resource scarcities

We are facing impending scarcity at the food, water, and energy nexus—future growth will depend wholly on a company’s ability to assess and respond to these risks.  We’re inspired by these business leaders.  Given what is emerging on the business and sustainability horizon, I am incredibly hopeful and inspired.

Emily Taylor is a dual degree MBA/MS student at the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute.  Emily is passionate about incorporating sustainability into competitive strategy for private sector companies.  While at Michigan, Emily has conducted research with The Dow Chemical Company in Midland, MI and ITC Limited’s spices division in Guntur, India.  Last summer, Emily interned with the World Resources Institute’s Markets and Enterprise Group, exploring how to use public financing to mobilize private investment in low-carbon projects in developing countries.  Before Michigan, Emily worked in higher-ed fundraising, both in annual giving and international advancement, with a focus on Asia and Europe.  Emily earned a B.A. in government and environmental science and policy from Smith College.

 

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Emily a really informative post. Thank you so much. Though its great that companies have started thinking seriously about sustainability what deeply concerns me is that answering these problems ONLY through technology and data may help us survive but jeopardize other species. What about trees, birds and other animals who are rapidly becoming extinct. If we are to truly find a sustainable solution and not be content with applying bandages then we ought to bring a radical shift in thinking about our place in this world and reinvigorating indigenous sustainable practices and cultures. A shift in our values is a necessity because at the end of the day companies are answerable to their investors who look for short term financial gains. Hence revenue maximization through selling more even though more efficiently would only delay the catastrophe. Would love to connect with you and know your thoughts on this.

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