Some emerging-world companies are combining growth with greenery
Sep 17th 2011 | from the print edition
THE enrichment of previously poor countries is the most inspiring development of our time. It is also worrying. The environment is already under strain. What will happen when the global population rises from 7 billion today to 9.3 billion in 2050, as demographers expect, and a growing proportion of these people can afford goods that were once reserved for the elite? Can the planet support so much economic activity?
Many policymakers adopt a top-down and Western-centric approach to such planetary problems. They discuss ambitious regulations in global forums, or look to giant multinationals and well-heeled NGOs to set an example. But since most people live in the emerging world, it makes sense to look at what successful companies there are doing to make growth more sustainable.
A new study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) identifies 16 emerging-market firms that they say are turning eco-consciousness into a source of competitive advantage. These highly profitable companies (which the study dubs “the new sustainability champions”) are using greenery to reduce costs, motivate workers and forge relationships. Their home-grown ideas will probably be easier for their peers to copy than anything cooked up in the West.
The most salient quality of these companies is that they turn limitations (of resources, labour and infrastructure) into opportunities. Thus, India’s Shree Cement, which has long suffered from water shortages, developed the world’s most water-efficient method for making cement, in part by using air-cooling rather than water-cooling. Manila Water, a utility in the Philippines, reduced the amount of water it was losing, through wastage and illegal tapping, from 63% in 1997 to 12% in 2010 by making water affordable for the poor. Broad Group, a Chinese maker of air conditioners, taps the waste heat from buildings to power its machines. Zhangzidao Fishery Group, a Chinese aquaculture company, recycles uneaten fish feed to fertilise crops.
这些企业最显著的特点是将资源、劳动力、设备的不足化为机遇。印度公司Shree Cement，曾长期面临水资源短缺的困扰，通过使用空气冷却而不是水冷却的方法，研制出世界最高效的用水系统来生产水泥。菲律宾一家公用事业公司Manila Water，因浪费和非法开采而导致的用水量流失，让穷人用得起水，将这一流失比例从1997年的63%降低至2010年的12%。中国的空调制造商远大集团，利用建筑散发的废热为机器提供动力；大连的海洋食品企业獐子岛渔业集团，重复利用剩鱼来肥沃庄稼。
Setting green goals is a common practice. Sekem, an Egyptian food producer, set itself the task of reclaiming desert land through organic farming. Florida Ice & Farm, a Costa Rican food and drink company, has adopted exacting standards for the amount of water it can consume in producing drinks.
设定绿色目标是惯例。埃及食品生产商Sekem制定以有机种植来改造沙漠的任务。哥斯达黎加食品饮料公司Florida Ice & Farm在生产饮料过程中采纳严苛的耗水量标准。
These firms measure themselves by their greenery, too. Florida Ice & Farm, for example, links 60% of its boss’s pay to the triple bottom line of “people, planet and profit”. The sustainability champions also encourage their workers to come up with green ideas. Natura, a Brazilian cosmetics company, gives bonuses to staff who find ways to reduce the firm’s impact on the environment. Masisa, a Chilean forestry company, invites employees to “imagine unimaginable businesses” aimed at poorer consumers. Woolworths, a South African retailer, claims that many of its best green ideas have come from staff, not bosses.
这些企业还通过环保事业来衡量自身价值。比如，Florida Ice & Farm把老板60%的薪水与“人、地球、利润”三条底线挂钩。同时，这只“新型可持续发展领头羊”还鼓励员工提出绿色点子。巴西一家化妆品企业Natura分发奖励给员工，让他们找到降低企业对环境造成破坏的方法。智利一家林业企业Masisa，动员其职工开动脑筋，想出各种稀奇古怪的业务方式吸引相对拮据的客户。南非一家零售商Woolworths称，公司很多最佳环保点子来自员工而不是老板。
In emerging markets it is hard for companies to stick to one specialism, because they have to worry about so many wider problems, from lousy infrastructure to unreliable supply chains. So the sustainability champions seek to shape the business environment in which they operate. They lobby regulators: Grupo Balbo, a Brazilian organic-sugar producer, is working with the Brazilian government to establish a certification system for organic products. They form partnerships with governments and NGOs. Kenya’s Equity Bank has formed an alliance with groups such as The International Fund for Agricultural Development to reduce its risks when lending to smallholders. Natura has worked with its suppliers to produce sustainable packaging, including a new “green” plastic derived from sugar cane.
在新型经济体中，企业似乎很难坚守一种专长，因为它们还得担忧如令人讨厌的基础设施和不可信赖的供应链等诸多大问题。 因此，领头羊们力求塑造业已掌控的经济环境。它们向监管机构游说，如巴西的有机糖生产商Grupo Balbo和巴西政府合作，以建立有机产品的认证体系，它们还同各级政府和非政府组织建立关系；肯尼亚的Equity Bank与国际农业发展基金等组织构建联盟关系，来降低小佃农的贷款风险。Natura与其供应商合作，生产可持续包装袋，其中包括从甘蔗中提炼出来的新 “绿色“垃圾袋。
The firms also work hard to reach and educate poor consumers, often sacrificing short-term profits to create future markets. Masisa organises local carpenters into networks and connects them to low-income furniture buyers. Broad Group has developed a miniature device for measuring air pollution that can fit into mobile phones. Jain Irrigation, an Indian maker of irrigation systems, uses dance and song to explain the benefits of drip irrigation to farmers who can’t read. Suntech, a Chinese solar-power company, has established a low-carbon museum to celebrate ways of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.
Rich because green, or green because rich?
One could quibble with BCG’s analysis. Phil Rosenzweig of Switzerland’s IMD business school has argued that management writers are prone to “the halo effect”: they treat the temporary success of a company as proof that it has discovered some eternal principle of good management. The fact that some successful companies have embraced greenery does not prove that greenery makes a firm successful. Some firms, having prospered, find they can afford to splurge on greenery. Some successful firms pursue greenery for public-relations purposes. And for every sustainable emerging champion, there are surely 100 firms that have prospered by belching fumes into the air or pumping toxins into rivers, as a visit to China or India will show only too vividly.
Nonetheless, the central message of the WEF-BCG study—that some of the best emerging-world companies are combining profits with greenery—is thought-provoking. Many critics of environmentalism argue that it is a rich-world luxury: that the poor need adequate food before they need super-clean air. Some even see greenery as a rich-world conspiracy: the West grew rich by industrialising (and polluting), but now wants to stop the rest of the world from following suit. The WEF-BCG report demonstrates that such fears are overblown. Emerging-world companies can be just as green as their Western rivals. Many have found that, when natural resources are scarce and consumers are cash-strapped, greenery can be a lucrative business strategy.