COLUMN-The next generation demands sustainable, innovative business

Reuters

By Bill McDermott

Oct 21 (Reuters) - Christina Marule owns a spaza shop - theequivalent of a corner store - in rural South Africa. Five yearsago she was forced to keep her young son out of school while shetraveled to the nearest market, a half day's trip away, topurchase products to sell in her store. Today, she managesinventory via text message from a mobile device. Her son is backin the classroom.

Her story is one of personal determination, but also of realprogress.

Fueled by innovation and the determined ambition of a wholenew generation, stories like this are transforming businessmodels and entire value chains. To the world's future leaders,sustainable behavior is as much about educating Christina's sonas it is about protecting the world's supply of drinkable water.It's up to today's leaders to connect those dots.

In a recent survey 84 percent of Millennials (the generationborn between 1980 and 1993) said they care more about making apositive difference than workplace recognition. These youngprofessionals are the very same consumers who care more aboutpurpose than packaging or price. They are concerned, creativeand impatient for opportunities to make a difference. Theirterms are crystal clear: innovate business models around makingthe world run better and improving people's lives - or be leftbehind by those that do.

During the recent annual meeting of the Clinton GlobalInitiative, I joined some distinguished panelists to talk aboutthe world's resource crisis. Many statistics are simply beyonddispute.

Today, the United Nations reports that 870 million peopleworldwide are undernourished. More than 10 percent of theworld's population can't access a safe water supply and morethan 2 billion people lack adequate sanitation. While we discussthese challenges, the world's population is on course to growfrom today's 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050. Despitethese and other compelling figures, many organizations stillbelieve that sustainability is little more than an appendix inthe annual report.

The reality is that sustainable practices are the foundationof business models that will win, grow and scale.

Think about what's happening in the automobile industry withconnected cars. Leading manufacturers understand that consumerinterest has shifted from sexy to smart. It doesn't matter toMillennials that they can drive zero to sixty in five seconds ifthey can't afford the fuel and their joy rides hurt the planet.Interconnected mobility is the new value proposition, offeringyoung drivers fuel efficiency, real-time information, socialnetworking and pro-rated insurance in a single product.Fulfilling this promise requires collaboration acrossindustries, co-innovating to responsibly meet consumer demand.

It's true for business processes, too.

Danone, the world's largest yogurt maker, has more than100,000 employees on five continents. The company now usescarbon emissions as a proxy for inefficiency across its supplychain. With advanced technology, they automatically capture andanalyze emissions data across the manufacturing process. As theyconserve energy, they improve business results and build greaterbrand loyalty among purpose-driven consumers.

Saving the world, it turns out, is a winning businessstrategy.

Andrew Liveris, chairman and chief executive officer of DowChemical Company, says that the world's largest companies havethe responsibility to lead this transformation. He's absolutelyright and has built Dow into a case study with high standardsacross his global supply chain. Other companies are followingsuit on the Ariba Business Network - a virtual supply chain thattracks compliance and measures businesses worldwide on theirperformance.

At SAP, we bet big on the power of transparent data andnetwork-driven behavior. Today, any employee can monitor thecompany's performance on carbon emissions, women in managementor business travel. Skipping a flight when a video-conferencewill do makes a difference, so every employee has the power tomove the needle.

These measures lie at the core of our ability to continuetransforming our company. That's why when we report our annualbusiness performance, we integrate our sustainabilityperformance. Our shareholders appreciate that engaged employeesand operating income are inherently linked (for every 1 percentreduction in employee turnover, SAP saves 62 million euros). Ifwe involve people in the decisions that companies make, thechange will be more significant than we ever imagined. This isthe epitome of sustainability.

Engagement begins and ends with serving customers likeChristina Marule.

Seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world arein Africa. Mobile technology is core to reaching those emergingmarkets. A mobile application was what Christina needed toensure her son was educated and to initiate herself into themodern economy.

Studies have shown that introducing 10 new mobile telephonesper 100 people in the developing world can add between .5 to 1percent to a country's GDP growth rate.

Christina's story is being played out over and over again inAfrica - and in Asia, Europe and America. Christina's son andmillions like him will grow up in a better-run world and one daywill have the opportunity to live out their own winning dreams.

Many of my fellow boomers are despondent, thinking we'llleave younger generations a world worse off than the one weinherited. Guess what? They won't let us! They were raised withtoo many tools that allow them to reverse the trends. Mobility.Big data. Social networks. Let's take inspiration from our heirsand co-innovate with young dreamers to create a new era ofresponsible growth that protects the planet and benefitseveryone.

View Comments (0)