On Earth Day, an urgent call for sustainable commerce, from the co-founder of the Indian IT giant Infosys: “We are not too far away from a time when sustainability will transcend into a way of life and sustainable solutions will get competitive”. Like the internet revolution, Gopalakrishnan says, it will catalyse innovation, business growth and employment generation. Read More
Article by S. Gopalakrishnan in Times of India (22 April 2012):
The last few decades have seen us embark on a great period of transformation brought about by the significant contributions of what we have come to call the information, communications and technology (ICT) industry.
In India alone, it has helped spawn a huge industry that has elevated us to the global map, improved standards of living, helped our people transcend geographical barriers and spurred innovation.
More than a decade into the 21st century, the spawning of another industry, born out of an impending resource crisis, seems imminent.
Sustainability offers immense opportunities for innovation and growth, but most importantly, it is heading in a direction that allows us to morph business with sustainable economic development and societal interest, hitherto considered a euphemism.
In only 40 years from now, the current population will increase by 30%, thereby accentuating the problems of constantly shrinking resources and deteriorating environmental conditions that we will be forced to reckon with. Successful organizations, then, will be those whose core business is aligned to tackle global and local challenges; those that seek opportunity in the delayed or ineffective decision making process by governments owing to constraints of a dynamic and often volatile geo-political situation, where power play of national interest influences their decision-making functions.
Business as usual or business unusual?
In an era that will be dominated by businesses that are sustainable, I will bet on the latter. Business protocols, in the new “normal”, will have to be altered, necessitating ingenuity in product and services, approach to stakeholders and operations. This endeavour will then spur innovations in design, tweak operational efficiency and change behaviour and consumption patterns – all of which will find a place in the solution to the sustainability puzzle.
Business leaders will find a significant share of these opportunities by tapping into the fast growing middle class, which will grow from some 1.7 billion people today to 3.6 billion by 2030, with most of this growth in the emerging economies. When they are treated as an economically-resilient segment comprising creative entrepreneurs and value-demanding consumers, affordable products and services are bound to emerge.
Introspection by businesses with utmost sensitiveness to the environment is the need of the hour. The surge in sectors like real estate, automotive, infrastructure, retail is here to stay for a while in a growing market like India. Those in these sectors can view the play as opportunistic or as a way of establishing sustainable and endurable enterprises.
The challenge and the excitement in businesses of the future will revolve around meeting human demands, within ecological constraints. We are not too far away from a time when sustainability will transcend into a way of life and sustainable solutions will get competitive.
Imagine a carbon neutral industry, allowing entrepreneurs to establish green utilities and present consumers with an opportunity to buy green power.
Imagine future architecture pitched on high performance, powered by cutting-edge technology, LED lights and radiant cooling systems which will consume only 50% of the current energy. Imagine that harvesting and recycling of rainwater becomes habitual.
Imagine an entire upcoming class of people that can be molded to accept and embrace sustainability as a way of life as they get a taste of material consumption.
Utopian as it may sound, this may soon become a reality spiraling into viable business offerings that will provide green solutions to businesses as well as consumers. There will be a dramatic rise in the trend of companies translating internal initiatives into larger business opportunities. However, this calls for collective and collaborative action that includes governments, civil societies, institutions, grass-root entities and industry.
Sustainability in the 21st century is akin to the internet revolution towards the end of the 20th century. The impact, the intrigue and the all-encompassing nature of both concepts are similar.
Sustainability, like the internet revolution, will catalyze innovation, business growth and employment generation. And the internet, with its overwhelming scope to empower a whole generation with information on solutions to the issues at hand, offers us a repository of best practices that we can access and apply to our daily lives.
Every crisis comes with a hidden opportunity. Population explosion, environment degradation and paucity of resources bear immense risks, and corresponding opportunities. We stand at the threshold of a window of opportunity, where strategic thinking will radically change the way businesses will function.
Sustainable commerce will demand enlightened leadership and imagination, because much of the territory ahead is uncharted, and there is no history to guide us. What will help is a constant focus on adapting and making the transition as a principal prerogative. And one that will be ubiquitous – like the internet.
The writer is co-founder and executive co-chairman, Infosys Limited
S. Gopalakrishnan, Infosys Technologies, Ltd.
S. Gopalakrishnan (Kris) is one of the founders of Infosys Technologies Limited. As the Chief Executive Officer, he defined the road map for technology and innovation. In 1981, Kris, along with N.R. Narayana Murthy and five others, founded Infosys Technologies Limited. His initial responsibilities included the management of design, development, implementation, and support of information systems for clients in the consumer products industry in the U.S.
Between 1987 and 1994, Kris headed the technical operations of KSA/Infosys (a joint venture between Infosys and KSA at Atlanta, U.S.) as Vice President (Technical). In 1994, Kris returned to India and was appointed Deputy Managing Director of Infosys. On June 22, 2007, Kris was appointed the CEO and Managing Director of Infosys. Kris previously served as the Chief Operating Officer (April 2002), and as the President and Joint Managing Director (August 2006). His responsibilities included customer services, technology, investments, and acquisitions.
Kris is recognized as a global thought leader. He was selected in Thinkers 50, an elite list of global business thinkers compiled by Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer, in association with the IE Business School, Madrid, and the London Business School’s Management Innovation Lab.
Kris is the Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Southern Regional Council and on the Board of Governors at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore. Kris is also the Chairman of Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management (IIITM), Kerala, and Vice Chairman of the Information Technology Education Standards Board (BITES) set up by Karnataka Government. He is a member of ACM, IEEE and IEEE Computer Society.
In January 2011, Kris was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the country’s third highest civilian honor, by the Government of India. Kris holds master’s degrees in Physics (1977) and Computer Science (1979) from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Mr. Gopalakrishnan will be retiring from his position as Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, effective August 21, 2011, and will become the Executive Co-Chairman of the board.