Posted: 12 Jun 2012 06:34 AM PDT
By Melissa Leach
The STEPS Centre submitted a position paper to the Rio+20 zero draft preparation process, in which we argued that science, technology and innovation have essential roles to play in sustainability. But science is not enough: A radical new approach to innovation is urgently needed giving far greater recognition and power to poorer people's own innovations and priorities.
We proposed that a set of underlying principles need to guide innovation for sustainability and poverty reduction, addressing: (a) The specific Direction of change. This means being clear on the particular goals and principles driving policy and innovation, not leaving these open, undiscussed or driven by general imperatives of growth or progress, but actively steering these towards the kinds of transformation needed to meet integrated sustainable development/poverty reduction aims; (b) Diversity: Nurturing more diverse approaches and forms of innovation (social as well as technological) helps respond to the very varied ecological, social and economic contexts in which poorer people live, as well as to cope with uncertainty and surprise, and (c) Distribution: asking about who gains and who loses from particular innovations. Grassroots innovations offer particular value, helping to favour and prioritise more fairly the interests of the most marginal groups.
We argued that Rio+20 should provide a global framework supporting different forms of innovation that address sustainable development challenges at local, national and global levels. Beyond setting targets, this should be about enabling the grassroots and enhancing innovation capabilities for the longer term. We submitted a set of recommendations covering five areas for action: agenda setting; funding; capacity building; organising; and monitoring, evaluation and accountability. Our recommendations included: UNEP/ the proposed new specialized agency on environment adopting the assessment, promotion and co-ordination of innovation for sustainable development as part of its mandate; Transparent corporate reporting on R&D investments which focuses on poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability.
These remain our 'wish list' for Rio+20. new paper by the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Tellus Institute on 'Transforming Innovation for Sustainability', which we will be showcasing at an event in Rio, connects these arguments firmly with the science of 'planetary boundaries' and the urgent need to steer societies within a 'safe operating space'. New approaches to innovation are vital to meet this challenge.
Looking at the Draft Outcome document of 2nd June, it is disappointing how little, if any, of this new thinking on innovation is represented. On the positive side, there are a number of mentions of the importance of diversity (e.g. para 35 "We acknowledge the natural and cultural diversity of the world and recognize that all cultures and civilizations can contribute to sustainable development") and of the need for inclusive approaches to sustainable development that recognise the roles of grassroots and community efforts (e.g. para 36 "We further acknowledge efforts and progress made at the local and sub-national levels, and recognize the important role that such authorities and communities can play in implementing sustainable development, including by engaging citizens and stakeholders...").
There are valuable emphases on broad public participation (e.g. para 37 'Sustainable development requires the meaningful involvement and active participation of all Major Groups – women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, local authorities, workers and trade unions' - as well as business and industry and the scientific community. ...we agree to work more closely with Major Groups and other stakeholders and encourage their active participation, as appropriate, in processes that contribute to decision making, planning and implementation of policies and programmes for sustainable development at all levels including through the contribution of their specific views, knowledge and practical know-how'.)
However, these emphases are nowhere linked specifically to innovation. Instead, recommendations around innovation – largely in the section on 'green economy' – largely follow old-style views of one-way 'technology transfer'
Indeed the term 'innovation' is hardly used, let alone attention to its social as well as technical dimensions, or the need for diverse approaches: e.g. para 65. 'We recognize the critical role of technology as well as the importance of promoting innovation [[in particular/ also – Switzerland] in developing countries – G77; EU reserve]. We invite governments, as appropriate, to create enabling frameworks that foster environmentally sound technology, R&D and innovation [to support green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication – G77 delete; RoK, EU, Switzerland retain pending clean-up of text]. [In this regard, we acknowledge the importance of international sustainability standards, predictable regulation and sustainable procurement. – EU; G77 delete; US, Japan, Mexico, RoK reserve] – Japan supports Chair's text [We emphasize the importance of technology transfer to developing countries. – Japan, G77; EU, US reserve] We reaffirm the objective to promote, facilitate, and finance as appropriate, the access to and the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and corresponding know-how, in particular to developing countries, on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms [, as mutually agreed, taking into account the need to protect the IPRs as well as the special needs of developing countries for implementation'.
In specific sections (e.g. on food) there is some acknowledgement of the potential contributions of local technical knowledge: e.g. 'We also recognize the importance of traditional agricultural practices, including seed supply systems, for many indigenous peoples and local communities'.
However there is no commitment evident to the kind of global framework, or approaches to agenda-setting that link grassroots innovation with national and international goals, that we advocated. There are recommendations for global partnerships (e.g. para 49. 'We commit ourselves to re-invigorating the global partnership for sustainable development that we launched in Rio in 1992. We recognize the need to impart new momentum to our cooperative pursuit of sustainable development, and commit to work together with Major Groups and other stakeholders in addressing implementation gaps', and there are recommendations to strengthen ECOSOC. But any consideration of innovation is absent from these paragraphs.
In sum then, what I see is a missed opportunity - at this point - to integrate broader thinking about inclusive participation and partnerships for sustainable development (which is present in the document, at least to some extent) with thinking about innovation. The latter - to the extent that it figures at all - is largely driven by outdates notions of one-way technology trasfer.
Can our interventions at Rio help to turn this around? One can but hope.
More on the STEPS Centre's activities at Rio
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Posted: 12 Jun 2012 04:01 AM PDT
By Ian Scoones
India has seen unprecedented economic growth in recent years; yet with this comes a growing demand for resources and increased pressure on the environment. But how can we combine business success and broad-based economic growth with environmental sustainability? This is a major challenge for fast-growing emerging economies such as India. As the Rio+20 conference approaches, creating sustainable business options in these countries is a high priority.
Earlier in 2012, the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore together with the STEPS Centre organised a major conference titled "Risk, Competitiveness and Sustainability". It was hosted by Infosys, one of Bangalore's information technology success stories, and now a global company with annual revenues of $7bn. The event was supported by the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI). Sridhar Pabbisetty, one of the conference organisers and Chief Operating Officer of the Centre for Public Policy at IIM-B, said "the conference challenged companies, academics and not-for-profit organizations to collaborate together and find sustainable business models that would effectively address business, social and environmental risks".
The conference, held in Infosys' prestigious HQ in Bangalore, was opened by Shri. S.D. Shibulal, co-founder and CEO of Infosys Technologies. He outlined how Infosys has been pursuing an integrated approach to evaluate environmental challenges and find sustainable solutions. His vision was for Infosys to be a leader in India and indeed the world in this field.
Around 120 participants attended the event from across diverse companies from Bangalore and beyond. Participants also included engineering and management students, eager to learn about the cutting-edge developments in linking business practices to sustainable solutions. Presentations ranged from conservation and environmental organisations to economists, law and management specialists, but the core was a series of case studies of Indian companies that are grappling with the sustainability challenge at the heart of their business strategy.
For example, Megha Shenoy, Research Director at ROI-India, outlined her team's work on creating an industrial waste exchange network in the Nanjangud Industrial Area, in Karnataka in southern India. She demonstrated how careful analysis can lead to only 0.5% of solid non-hazardous wastes needing to be disposed of. "This requires a systematic effort to encourage in-house recycling and waste reduction", she said. "With symbiotic exchanges established with upstream, downstream and other allied industries, as well as strengthening the informal recycling market, major reductions in waste can be achieved", she added.
Meanwhile, Rohan Parikh, Head of Green Initiatives at Infosys Technologies explained the Integrated Design Approach followed at Infosys in the design of new buildings. Through this approach average energy consumption per employee was brought down by 23% over four years. "This was made possible due to an intense collaboration between external consultants, architect and the construction team with the top management at Infosys closely involved", he said. With the maximum utilization of daylight, innovative use of radiant cooling and continued expansion of green power sources, this has enabled Infosys to embark on a sustainable energy path, he explained. "We have a target to be 100% carbon neutral by FY 2018 at Infosys", he added.
Infosys also has a focus on water sustainability. This has borne fruit with the amount of rain water sequestered in Infosys campuses across India estimated at more than 4.3 billion litres every year; about 123% of their annual water consumption. Advanced sewage treatment technology and other technological innovations such as biogas and the chemical reduction initiative all contribute. "These are all steps in the direction of building tomorrow's enterprise: one centred on sustainability", he argued.
Whether it is the reduction of waste or the conservation of energy or water, all these efforts are increasingly seen as central to sound business practice. This is not just corporate PR, but a core part of the business model. As Richa Bajpai. co-founder and director of NextGen, argued "tommorow's climate is today's challenge". NextGen is a leader among a rapidly growing group of Indian cleantech firms with operations in sustainability and emission management and linking waste to energy generation.
Sustainable businesses require innovation in technology, organisation and management – and usually all three together, participants argued. As Prashanth Vikram Singh of Price Waterhouse Coopers explained, responding to economic, social and environmental sustainability challenges together is essential for any business if the fundamental challenges of carbon and waste reduction are to be achieved. For many businesses, this involves negotiating what Santhosh Jayaram of DNV Business Assurance called the "jungle of standards".
Applying new technologies was seen in many of the cases discussed at the conference as central. Indian companies now setting up and growing can leapfrog competitors in North American and Europe who are locked in to more unsustainable practices, it was suggested. This requires some fairly fundamental reimagining of ways of working however. Basic infrastructure, design, architecture and planning must be rethought. Prem Chandavarkar, Managing Partner at CnT Architects described, for example, the challenges of imagining a different Indian city which responded to sustainability imperatives.
Many of the sustainability gains thus require more fundamental organisational shifts, and need to be led from by top-level management. Only with this commitment – from CEOs, Boards and supported by shareholders – will sustainable practices really emerge on a wide scale. The good news is that this is happening already. In a recent blog post, Thomas Lingard, global advocacy director at Unilever (and also a member of the STEPS Centre's advisory board), explains how new alliances for sustainability are being forged in the private sector. In the lead up to Rio, this is essential, as this constituency must be central to any sustainability transition. As the IIM-B/STEPS Centre conference showed, India is at the forefront of this new movement, with new, innovative technologies and practices to share.
More about: STEPS Centre activities around Rio+20
Steps Centre work on risk, uncertainty and technology in India
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