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Sustainability and the Creative Destruction


									 Global Sustainability and the Creative
       Destruction of Industries

                       STUART L. HART
              Associate Professor of Management
            Director, Sustainable Enterprise Initiative
                 Kenan-Flagler Business School
            University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
                  CB #3490, McColl Building
                  Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3490
                      Phone: 919-962-4509
                        Fax: 919-962-4266

                     MARK B. MILSTEIN
                       Doctoral Candidate
                 Kenan-Flagler Business School
            University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
                  CB #3490, McColl Building
                  Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3490
                      Phone: 919-962-9687
                        Fax: 919-962-4266

Not for citation or distribution without the permission of the author

     Accepted for publication in Sloan Management Review

                             July 1999
More than fifty years ago, economist Joseph Alios Schumpeter described the dynamic
pattern where innovative upstarts unseat established firms through a process he described
as “creative destruction.”1 While most twentieth century economists have focused upon
competition under conditions of static equilibrium, Schumpeter was original in his
insistence that disequilibrium was the driving force of capitalism. Entrepreneurs creating
new processes, products, and markets tend to be the key actors in this process, not the
managers charged with administering existing businesses. Since Schumpeter’s time, the
theme of creative destruction has received growing attention in the literature.2
         There is now little doubt that the economy is driven by firms that are able to
capitalize on the “new combinations” so eloquently described by Schumpeter: Coal Age
technologies gave way to Oil Age technologies which are now giving way to Information
Age technologies.          With each wave of change, the technological and economic
infrastructure of society experiences dramatic transformation, with new institutions,
enterprises, and geographic patterns of development created in the process.                         During
periods of dramatic change, most incumbent firms are not successful in building the
capabilities needed to secure a position in the new competitive landscape. There is no
shortage of notable examples: manufacturers of horse carriages, sailing ships, vacuum
tubes, steam locomotives, and propeller engines were all displaced by new combinations
of social and technical systems that came from outside of the existing industries.

1The  importance of entrepreneurs to creative destruction was first discussed in J. Schumpeter, The Theory
of Economic Development, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934. The thesis was later
extended to include consideration of how large corporations might participate in this process in J.
Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1942.
2 There is an extensive literature on this topic, including: A. Cooper and D. Schendel, “Strategic responses
to technological threats,” Business Horizons, February 1976, pp. 61-69; W. Abernathy and J. Utterback,
“Patterns of innovation in technology,” Technology Review, 1978, vol 80: pp. 40-47; S. Winter,
“Schumpeterian competition in alternative technological regimes,” Journal of Economic Behavior and
Organization, 1984, vol 5, pp. 287-320; W. Abernathy and K. Clark, “Innovation: Mapping the winds of
creative destruction,” Research Policy, 1985, vol 14, pp. 3-22; M. Tushman and P. Anderson,
“Technological discontinuities and organizational environments,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 1986,
vol 31, pp. 439-465; R. Foster, Innovation: the Attacker’s Advantage, New York, NY: Summit Books,
1986; R. Henderson and K. Clark, “Architectural innovation: The reconfiguration of existing product
technologies and the failure of established firms,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 1990, vol 35, pp. 9-30;
and most recently, A. Cooper and C. Smith, “How established firms respond to threatening technologies,”
Academy of Management Executive, 1992, vol 6, pp. 55-70;. C. Christensen and J. Bower, “Customer
power, strategic investment, and the failure of leading firms,” Strategic Management Journal, 1996, vol 17,
pp. 197-218; and M. Tripsas, “Unraveling the process of creative destruction: Complementary assets and
incumbent survival in the typesetter industry,” Strategic Management Journal, 1997, vol 18, 119-142.

       Not surprisingly, the notion of creative destruction makes many managers
uncomfortable—and it should. Time and again, incumbent firms have either discounted
the significance of an emergent technology or have reacted to changes by becoming more
committed to existing products and markets. Incumbent firms that survive episodes of
creative destruction do so because they display a higher degree of foresight than their
peers—they invest and partner to acquire new competencies, and they experiment in new,
untested markets. They are not held hostage by their current technology or market
       Foresight is the key to survival. Managers able to perceive trends and “weak
signals” where others see only noise or chaos are able to capitalize on the changing nature
of the market to reposition their firms before new entrants have an opportunity to become
a serious threat.    Nowhere is it written that foresight is the sole domain of the
entrepreneur or start-up company. Armed with the proper tools and frame of mind,
managers of incumbent firms can possess as much foresight as the CEO of the hottest
new IPO. Foresight, however, requires the manager to strip away many assumptions so
that the world can be viewed through a new set of lenses.
       In this article, we argue that the emerging challenge of global sustainability is a
catalyst for a new round of creative destruction which offers unprecedented opportunities
to managers with the foresight to capitalize on it. Today’s existing corporations can
develop the foresight and agility to seize the opportunity for sustainable development, but
to do so they must look beyond continuous, incremental improvements. We propose a
framework for helping managers to see the business world through a different set of
lenses, so that sustainability-driven opportunities can become more apparent. Finally, we
suggest the need for a series of new metrics that can help managers evaluate their
organizations’ current performance and realize new, sustainability-driven business

                 Continuous Improvement versus Creative Destruction

Episodes of creative destruction are driven by waves of scientific and technological
discovery or major periods of socioeconomic change. Today, we are in the early stages of
such a revolution—the transformation toward sustainable development—that has been
largely ignored, overlooked, or contested by firms. Most of today’s large corporations
developed in an era of abundant raw materials, cheap energy and limitless sinks for waste
disposal. Over the past few decades, however, it has become increasingly clear that many
of the technologies developed during this period contribute to the destruction of the very
ecological systems on which the economy depends: The specters of toxic contamination,
depleted forests and fisheries, eroded soils, loss of biodiversity, global climate change,
burgeoning population growth, and a widening gap between rich and poor are explicit
signals that managers must rethink the social and environmental impact of their
technologies, products, and processes. Scenarios abound suggesting that in the absence
of dramatic change, we are destined to devolve into a world of environmental
degradation, social upheaval, and mass migration on an unimaginable scale.3

Greening = Continuous Improvement
While commendable and important, most efforts to date in “greening” and
“environmental management” serve only to improve incrementally the performance of
existing products and processes (Figure 1).             Sector-based collaboration in pollution
prevention and product stewardship is used to solidify the competitive positions of
incumbents by rewriting the rules of the game in their favor. In this sense, collaboration
among competitors is serving to perpetuate the current industry structure. As a result,
“greening” fosters continuous improvement rather than reinvention or fundamental
innovation.4 In the long run, however, the dynamics of creative destruction will work
against firms that rely only on incremental improvements and fail to change the
fundamental manner in which products, processes, and services are provided.

3 See: J. Coates, J. Mahaffie, and A. Hines, 2025, Greensboro, NC: Oakhill Press, 1997, and A. Hammond,
Which World? Scenarios for the 21st Century, Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1998.
4 See, for example, S. Hart and G. Ahuha, “Does it pay to be green?” Business Strategy and the
Environment, 1996, 5, pp. 30-37.

                                  Insert Figure 1 About Here

         An example of such incremental improvement is the Chemical Manufacturers
Association’s (CMA) Responsible Care Program, which helped rescue the industry from
near oblivion, but has not led to revolutionary practices by its members. Following the
Bhopal disaster in 1984 (in which 3,000 residents of Bhopal, India died as a result of a
toxic chemical explosion at a Union Carbide plant), leading chemical companies (e.g.
Dow, DuPont, Monsanto) pressed for self-regulation in the face of public hostility and
calls for stricter regulatory measures that threatened the continued survival of the
industry. This culminated, in 1988, in the adoption by the CMA of Responsible Care—a
statement of environmental principles and codes of management practices, that included
provisions for pollution prevention, product stewardship, and community involvement.
To give the program teeth, the principles and codes were made obligatory for CMA
member companies, which comprised 90% of the chemical capacity in the US; non-
compliance was grounds for expulsion from CMA. Since 1988, Responsible Care has
transformed the chemical industry’s environmental behavior and helped to change the
public perception of the industry from one of shameless polluter to more responsible
         While successful in reestablishing the legitimacy of an industry under tremendous
public pressure, Responsible Care has failed to address the fundamental underlying
problems associated with the chemical industry—many of its products and processes are
highly toxic, resource intensive, and continue to place enormous pressures on air and
water resources.     As an industry-level collaborative process, the Responsible Care
Program has fostered incremental improvement by forcing laggard chemical firms to
mimic the leaders in terms of environmental management. This has left the leading firms
such as Dow and DuPont in a stronger competitive position by helping to shore up

support for their right to operate, but, ironically, reduced the likelihood of fundamental
innovation by chemical industry incumbents.5

Global Sustainability = Creative Destruction
If we reflect on the commonly held definition that sustainable development is the ability
of the current generation to meet its needs without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet theirs, it is not difficult to see how most existing products and
processes fail to meet this criterion.6 A growing body of data suggests that today’s
extractive and material-intensive industries (e.g. mining, energy, chemicals, forest
products, agriculture, and transportation, to name but a few) are not environmentally
sustainable as currently conceived.7            As an illustration, if the entire world were as
materially intensive as North America, it would take three Planet Earths to support the
material requirements of the present world population, let alone future generations.8 The
challenge of global sustainability should thus be viewed as a major discontinuity with the
power to radically transform the structure of many of today’s industries.9
         This challenge presents an opportunity over the next decade for visionary
companies to drive the redefinition and redesign of their industries toward
sustainability.10 Material- and energy-intensive industries will find global sustainability
to be a competency destroying challenge which calls for radical repositioning and new

5 For more detail on the competitive dynamics of the Responsible Care Program, see A. King, and M.
Lenox, “The benefits of membership: Performance implications of the responsible care program,” Academy
of Management Best Paper Proceedings, 1998, San Diego, CA.
6 For an elaboration on this definition, see: World Commission on Environment and Development, Our
Common Future, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
7 See, for example, W. Van Dieren, Taking Nature into Account, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1995; T.
Graedel and B. Allenby, Industrial Ecology, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995; G. Keoleian et al.,
Industrial Ecology of the Automobile, Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers, 1997; E. von
Weizsacker, A. Lovins, and H. Lovins, Factor Four, London: Earthscan, 1997; and G. Daily, Nature’s
Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems, Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997.
8 See M. Wackernagel and W. Rees, Our Ecological Footprint, Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers,
1996, for extensive data on the “ecological footprints” associated with human activity. In the U.S., for
example, it currently takes 12.2 acres to supply the average person’s basic needs; in the Netherlands, 8
acres; in India, 1 acre. The footprint analysis makes it clear that dramatic reductions in footprint will be
necessary to support future generations of a growing population.
9 See: P. Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce, New York: HarperBusiness, 1993, and S. Hart, “Beyond
greening: Strategies for a sustainable world.” Harvard Business Review, January-February 1997, pp. 66-76.
10 For a complementary argument, see C. Fussler, Driving Eco-Innovation, London: Pitman Publishing,

competency development. Information- and service-intensive industries will find global
sustainability to be a competency enhancing challenge which offers significant potential
for substitution and leapfrogging.               Overall, innovators and entrepreneurs will view
sustainable development as one of the biggest business opportunities in the history of
           Even in the chemical industry, where the Responsible Care program has
emphasized incremental improvement, the early stages of creative destruction can already
be discerned. A handful of chemical companies have begun to reposition themselves in
fundamental ways.            Leading players such as Monsanto and DuPont are questioning
whether the industry can remain committed to the use of petroleum feedstocks and toxic
materials (unsustainable). They are betting that higher performance can be realized by
shifting to biologically-derived, more benign materials (potentially sustainable).
           In fact, over the past decade, demergers, spin-offs, acquisitions, and significant
new technology developments have structurally transformed the chemical industry
(Figure 2). DuPont recently divested Conoco to focus on products with higher service
and information content. Monsanto, Hoechst, and Rhone-Poulenc have spun off their
chemical businesses to focus on life sciences, food, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology.
ICI, Sandoz, and Ciba-Geigy have refocused on chemicals, by spinning off their life
sciences and biotechnology investments (witness the creation of Zeneca and Novartis).
Dow and DuPont are ramping up significant investments in biotechnology. Still other
firms, such as Novo Nordisk, the fast-growing Danish pharmaceutical and biotechnology
company, and Empresas La Modernal, an emerging Latin American life sciences
powerhouse, are exploring “green chemistry,” and finding biological substitutes for
synthetic chemicals.
           Led by Monsanto’s transformation to life sciences, several companies are
pursuing sustainable development strategies related to agriculture. Dow has initiated
development of “green” pesticides using “tracer” technology—fermentation-based
substitutes for existing chlorinated chemical pesticides. DuPont’s Agricultural Products
Business has committed to developing less toxic, low use-rate agricultural chemicals in

11   Where incumbents do not drive the process of creative destruction, it is inevitable that entrepreneurs and

their program “A Growing Partnership with Nature” where biological products become
substitutes for current material- and toxic-intensive crop protection chemicals.

                                 Insert Figure 2 About Here

         A similar portrait could be painted for virtually every energy- and material-
intensive industry from oil to automobiles. In ways that are not yet completely clear, the
challenge of global sustainability has begun to drive the process of creative destruction.
Yet, many managers resist or discount sustainable development as a business driver,
arguing that its ill-defined and contestable nature renders any action premature. History
teaches us, however, that once clarity is achieved and standards are set, winners and
losers have already been defined. Strategy is about taking action under conditions of
uncertainty or even ambiguity. During periods of creative destruction, hesitancy equals
death. Foresight is therefore needed to help managers remove blinders and begin to see
opportunity where they now see only chaos or rhetoric. In the next section, we describe a
new conceptual lens managers can use for framing and identifying the business
opportunities being driven by the transformation to global sustainability.

                                 A New Conceptual Lens
Managers, particularly those in large, transnational corporations, have become too
accustomed to viewing the global market as a single entity. Attention has been focused
almost exclusively on markets that have achieved a certain measure of affluence.
Business opportunities are evaluated by the degree to which they offer sales potential
consistent with the global market standard, which facilitates selling products and services
worldwide with minimal changes. Markets are of value only to the extent that consumers
have purchasing power comparable to that found in the United States, Western Europe, or

new entrants will.

Japan. Capturing the opportunities of sustainability-driven creative destruction, however,
will require that managers radically expand their notion of the global market.
        The truth is that within any country or region, even the United States, there exist
three types of markets or economies—one developed, one emerging, and one trying to
survive.12 To better understand sustainability-driven creative destruction, managers must
begin to evaluate business opportunities through all three of these lenses. First, there is
the developed, consumer economy where nearly 1 billion customers around the world
have the purchasing power to afford most anything they might desire. In the consumer
economy, the infrastructure exists to enable the rapid manufacturing and distribution of
products and services, and consumption occurs at very high levels.
        Second, there is the emerging economy (roughly 2 billion strong) where basic
needs of consumers are met and some minimal purchasing power has been obtained.
There is little extravagance in the emerging economy, but there is no desperation. Rapid
industrialization and urban migration is increasing the demand for additional products
and services for this large and rapidly growing market.
        Finally, there is the survival economy, which comprises roughly half of humanity
(3 billion). Members of the survival economy are largely rural and poor with basic needs
that remain mostly unnoticed and unmet. There is no infrastructure to allow those needs
to be addressed, and few companies have dared to invest in what they perceive at best as a
risky and long-term proposition.13
        Such distinctions are important because each of these economies requires different
strategies to achieve sustainable development. To compete sustainably in the consumer
economy, managers must focus on reducing the life cycle (cradle to grave) impacts of
products through technological innovation. That is, managers should seek to reduce the
“footprint”(see footnote 7) of their firms’ activities by reinventing their products and
processes. To meet the long term needs of the emerging economy, managers must engage
in commercial activities that help to avoid the collision between rapidly growing demand

12For an in-depth discussion of consumer, emerging, and survival economies, see S. Hart, 1997, op.cit.
13For details on income levels and numbers of people associated with each of these three economies, see:
World Bank, World Development Report: Knowledge for Development, New York: Oxford University
Press, 1999.

for products on the one hand, and the physical basis for supply or waste disposal on the
other. That is, managers must help their organizations leapfrog outdated practices and
technologies relied on in yesterday’s consumer economy.             Finally, to realize the
opportunity in the survival economy, managers must recognize and exploit the inherent
opportunity presented by a massive group of potential consumers whose basic needs
remain unfulfilled. Each of these three strategies is discussed in more detail below.

The Consumer Economy: Reducing the Corporate Footprint
Approximately 80 metric tons of materials are used to produce, distribute, operate, and
dispose of the products and services consumed by each American every year.14 The
typical American consumes 17 times more than his or her Mexican counterpart and
hundreds of times more than the average Ethiopian.15 Western Europeans, Japanese, and
other highly affluent consumers around the world are not quite as material intensive, but
are not far behind. By any measure, the 1 billion participants of the consumer economy
leave a very large footprint compared to their counterparts in the emerging or survival
          Individuals in the consumer economy leave large footprints because so many of
the resource- and energy-intensive industries serving their needs—chemicals,
automobiles, oil, and mining, to name a few—leave very large corporate footprints.
Usually, the full life cycle costs of these industries are not captured in market prices—
substantial impacts are externalized onto society at large. Footprints can be reduced by
driving the material content out of products in favor of service, information, and
functionality. And where waste is generated, it must serve as input for some other value-
added process.
          Product systems with large footprints are usually based upon mature technologies.
As technologies mature they reach a point where even large additional investments in
technical development yield only small gains in performance. The combination of large
footprint and technological maturity creates openings for creative destruction. It is at this
point that innovations begin to appear as entrepreneurs with radically new technologies

14   See A. Hammond, op cit.

work to generate significant performance gains with comparatively modest investments.
Mature technology causes the gap between price and life cycle cost to widen and grow,
resulting in both technological and environmental forces that drive creative destruction.
To identify sustainability-driven opportunities for the consumer economy, managers must
address questions like the following:

             How large is the gap between price and full life-cycle costs?
             Are most of our technological advances incremental in nature?
             Where can we drive material content out of our products?
             How can our service content be dramatically increased?
             Where can our waste become inputs to other processes?

        Consider the automobile industry. The skyrocketing costs of technology and
product development in the industry are indicative of mature technology reaching its
limits. Customers continue to press the industry for performance improvements and new
features, but the gasoline powered internal combustion engine and metal working
technologies that underpin the industry are inherently inefficient.16                       As currently
conceived, the automobile creates extraordinary life-cycle costs in the form of junkyards,
smog, and greenhouse gas emissions that worsen with each passing year. The industry is
ripe for creative destruction via technologies that radically improve efficiency, reduce
automotive material content, and eliminate tailpipe emissions. Like sharks circling their
hapless target, designers of fuel cells, ultralight bodies, and radical new drivetrains are
poised to revolutionize all aspects of the automobile, from the manufacturing process to
aftermarket services and disposal.
        In the carpeting industry, Collins & Aikman Floorcoverings is driving a creative
destruction process through a push to shrink its corporate footprint. The company has
developed a patented technology to produce new carpet from old on a closed-loop basis.
The process involves extruding and calendering reclaimed carpet tile to produce new

15See M. Wackernagel and W. Rees, op cit.
16See, P. Hawken, op cit. for a discussion of inefficiencies in conventional automotive technology: only
about 1% of energy used is transferred to forward motion.

PVC-based backing for its ER3 floor coverings. ER3 modular carpet tile has now
become the company’s standard product—virgin tile will no longer be produced—
eliminating the need for virgin, petroleum-based feedstocks. In 1998, over eight million
pounds of material was diverted from the landfill and recovered. This figure is expected
to double in 1999. Given that raw material constitutes nearly 40% of the typical carpet-
maker’s cost structure, it should come as no surprise that Collins & Aikman is roughly
twice as profitable as its closest competitor. The company is using some of these profits
to invest in “next generation” floorcoverings that will eliminate the use of PVC as a
material and facilitate more sustainable building designs and flooring systems.
          In the chemical industry, DuPont has embarked upon a corporate quest to
dramatically shrink the company’s footprint. New CEO Chad Holliday is seeking to
transform the corporation from a large-volume producer of chemicals and materials to a
high value-added producer of information products and services. As Holliday recently put
it: “The objective for our industry ought to be sustainable growth. In the next century, we
are going to have to find ways to create value while decreasing our environmental

footprint.”17 To help fuel the creative destruction process, Vice President Paul Tebo has
created an analytical tool which allows the company to compare each of its businesses in
terms of their footprint. By comparing the total pounds of materials consumed per annum
with shareholder value-added (SVA) per pound, the analysis has highlighted three distinct
groups of businesses (Figure 3).

                                      Insert Figure 3 About Here

          Businesses with small footprints and high SVA per pound are “differentiated”
businesses that include photopolymers and electronic materials, low use-rate agricultural
chemicals, agricultural biotechnology, Lycra, Tyvec, Corian, and auto finishes.
Businesses with medium footprints and medium SVA per pound are “foundation”

17   Remarks by Chad Holliday at the Chemical Industry Conference, Washington, D.C., November 9, 1998.

enterprises that include some of the company’s largest and best established such as
Nylon, PET, and polyethelene (PE). Finally, businesses with large footprints and low
SVA per pound such as the petroleum subsidiary Conoco represent the least company’s
least desired enterprises.
          The high earnings, cash flow and intellectual content (R&D/capital) of the
differentiated businesses are seen as the models for the future. Foundation businesses
represent opportunities for improvement and repositioning. On the other hand, large
footprint-low knowledge intensity enterprises are divested to fuel future growth in the
differentiated businesses. Over the next several years, company efforts will be directed at
identifying and launching entirely new business platforms in the upper left portion of the
graph.      Through its internally-initiated process of creative destruction, DuPont is
systematically shrinking the corporate footprint by driving material content out of their
products in favor or service and information content.
          Service companies can also play an important role in shrinking corporate
footprints.      In the telecommunications industry, for example, some companies are
beginning to explore ways to make a number of existing, resource-intensive products
obsolete. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Lucent Technologies are attempting
to substitute information for energy and material use. The high life-cycle costs associated
with such industries as oil, automobiles, and airlines create opportunities for substitute
products and services with substantially smaller footprints. These companies view e-
mail, telecommuting, teleconferencing, and internet transactions as ways to dramatically
reduce overall levels of material and energy consumption.

The Emerging Economy: Avoiding the Collision Course
Today, less than one-third of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Over the next
few decades, this figure is expected to swell to well over two-thirds. In China alone,
nearly 300 million people are expected to migrate to cities over the next twenty years (a
number greater than the current population of all of North America).18               Rapid
urbanization and industrialization together with increased demand for products and

18   See A. Hammond, op cit.

services are placing intense pressure on ecological and social systems. Technologies that
fueled the development of the consumer economy in the past will not be adequate for
meeting those future demands without exceeding nature’s capacity for replenishment.
       Avoiding the collision course between rapidly growing demand and a stable or
diminishing stock of material supply and waste sinks will be the biggest challenge facing
emerging economies. To identify sustainability-driven opportunities, managers must ask
themselves questions such as the following:

   Is it environmentally feasible to double or triple the size of our industry?
   What factors prevent our industry from such growth?
   Can we meet growing consumer needs without depleting the natural systems upon
    which we depend?
   Can we use emerging economies to incubate “leapfrog” technologies?
   How can we meet growing needs without exacerbating urban problems?

       The past several decades have witnessed an unprecedented boom in emerging
economies around the world: Nearly two billion people have joined the ranks of this
economy over the past twenty years alone. The recent financial crises in Asia and Latin
America, however, highlight the fact that past growth has been premised upon the
unsustainable exploitation of natural and human resources.              In many emerging
economies, development has resulted in pollution on a previously unimagined scale—
dead rivers, mountains of garbage, noxious air, and cesspools of toxic waste. From China
to Thailand to Mexico, the problem has moved beyond that of eyesore to one that
seriously jeopardizes public health and prospects for future development.
       Nevertheless, in the emerging economy the demand for an increasing range of
products and services will continue to rise. In meeting these growing demands, however,
firms have tended to replicate the same strategies, products, and processes that were
successful in the consumer economy. Given the scale and speed of development in the
emerging economy, however, a repeat performance of the consumer economy is almost
certain to lead to environmental meltdown. Sustainable development of the emerging

economy will depend upon the ability of firms to meet rapidly growing demands without
repeating the wasteful, outdated practices of the consumer economy. Because of the high
rate of manufacturing growth in the emerging economy, the capital stock in
manufacturing is being replaced at a very rapid rate. In Asia, for example, this translates
into a doubling of the equipment stock of manufacturing plants every six years.19 Thus,
there exists a significant opportunity for firms that are able to leapfrog to clean (closed-
loop, zero discharge) manufacturing technologies in emerging economies. Technological
leapfrogging will be essential if economic development is to continue at the rates required
to keep so many people out of poverty.
        The sustainability challenge in the emerging economy is particularly acute for
industries that depend on renewable resources. For example, the global forest products
industry must meet worldwide demand that is forecasted to grow at 1-2% per year for the
next several decades, even as the overall global supply of available timber declines.20
Continued commercial extinction of native forests, lack of reforestation, conversion of
forest lands for agriculture and industry, and tightening regulations are combining to
dampen wood supplies for the foreseeable future. The global industry, built primarily
upon the rapid harvesting of standing native forests, must find an alternative approach to
supplying the world’s needs. Recognizing this collision course, several companies have
begun to rethink their strategies for “sustainable forestry.” A few, such as Weyerhaeuser,
have embarked on intensive agroforestry to ensure increased fiber supplies while
minimizing impacts on additional lands. Their high yield model provides higher returns
while simultaneously minimizing and containing environmental impacts by producing
high-quality wood and fiber on fewer, continuously regenerated acres. Concentrating
production on a smaller number of intensively managed acres is entirely consistent with
the preservation of the remaining native and frontier forests of the world.
        Similarly, the agriculture industry is being challenged to supply the world’s
burgeoning population at the same time that water resources become more scarce, many
croplands become less arable, climate changes, and crops become more homogenized and

19 US-Asia Environmental Partnership, Report of the Independent Technical Review Panel, Washington,
D.C., 1995.
20 Food and Agriculture Organization, Forest Products Forecasts to 2010, Rome, Italy, 1995.

susceptible to mass failures. Growing populations and increasing affluence are driving
demand upwards at a rate that far exceeds the productivity improvements occurring on
croplands around the world. Global water consumption has doubled over the past fifty
years, and is expected to double again within another twenty, with two-fifths of the
world’s population already suffering from serious water deficits. Meanwhile, sources of
freshwater are not increasing. With the lion’s share of water being used in agriculture,
the industry is beginning to feel pressure for revolutionary changes. Lack of water could
curtail food production at precisely the time that world population soars from 6 billion
toward 8-10 billion. At the same time, cropland is lost each year to urban encroachment
and industrial development forcing more marginal lands into production. Furthermore,
desertification and changing global climate patterns place additional pressure on the
productive capacity of existing agricultural lands.21
        The existing model of commercial agriculture that is heavily dependent on the
intensive use of water, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers is experiencing diminishing
returns. A growing number of agricultural companies view this “collision course” as a
business opportunity. Monsanto, for example, has focused its strategy on reinventing the
world’s agricultural system through the use of biotechnology to design crops which are
resistant to pests, require less water and fertilizer, and are more nutritious.22
        Service companies can also realize opportunities in the emerging economy. Some
telecommunications companies have recognized the benefit of leapfrogging prohibitively
expensive terrestrial systems (land lines). Through satellite and radio systems, they are
reaching previously unserved rural areas with telecommunications comparable to those
found in urban areas. Such wireless systems erase differences among regions and nations
in access to information, allowing for smaller scale economic development that reduces
pressures for urbanization. Teledesic, a $9 billion venture, is working to install such a
system by forging a global partnership of service providers, manufacturers, governments,
and international agencies. Their “global internet” aims to bring high bandwidth service
to the most remote locations through the deployment of a global network of 840 low

21A. Hammond, op cit.
22See J. Magretta, “Growth through global sustainability,” Harvard Business Review, January-February
1997, pp. 79-88.

earth-orbit satellites (LEOs). Transmission times comparable to those for fiber optic
connections will make the network well-suited to time-sensitive, high-data rate
applications as refined as teleconferencing, medical imaging, and interactive multimedia.
Additionally, the company’s network will not be vulnerable to natural disasters, allowing
it to serve as a vital lifeline for emergency communications.

The Survival Economy: Meeting Unmet Needs
Unlike either the consumer or emerging economies, the survival economy is dominated
by poverty and desperation. It is most often found around the world in rural villages,
urban slums, and shanty towns. The sheer size of this economy is staggering: it is
composed of nearly 3 billion people—over half of humanity—who are subsistence-
oriented and tend to meet their basic needs directly from nature. Demographers generally
agree that as the world’s population doubles over the next 40 years, the bulk of that
growth will occur in the survival economy.23 Because vibrant rural communities stem the
pressures for mass migration, and accompanying social, political, and environmental
breakdown, stabilization of the survival economy is both a key to sustainable
development and an unprecedented business opportunity for firms visionary enough to
understand it.
           These opportunities exist to the extent that companies can focus on developing
technologies, products, and services geared specifically to the unmet basic needs of the
survival economy. To do that, managers must overcome two long held assumptions.
First, they must understand that significant profits can be realized by meeting the needs of
the poor and disenfranchised. This is in conflict with conventional wisdom that holds the
poor do not make good customers given their lack of money and education. Second,
managers must understand that meeting those needs requires the application of state-of-
the-art technology in fundamentally new ways. Simply transplanting business models
from the consumer or even the emerging economy will not work. Identification of
sustainability-driven opportunities can begin by asking such questions as:

23   See S. Hart, op cit, for more discussion of the survival economy in relation to global sustainability.

           Can our products and services meet the basic needs of the poor?
           How can we apply state-of-the-art technology to meet the most basic of human
           Are there market “vacuums” that firms have overlooked?
           Are we blinded by our current business model?
           How do we build a customer base that can grow in sophistication over time?

        Companies recognizing the business opportunities of the survival economy have
done so by clearly understanding and catering to the needs of poor customers. Consider
the clothing and apparel industry. Companies like Levis or Lee depend on wealthy
consumers who can buy their denim products in large retail stores near urban areas.
However, in India, Arvind Mills has created an entirely new value-delivery system for
blue jeans.24 As the world’s fifth largest denim manufacturer, Arvind found Indian
domestic denim sales limited because a $20-40 pair of jeans is neither affordable to the
masses nor widely available, since the existing distribution system reaches only a few
rural towns and villages. In direct response to this problem, Arvind introduced “Ruf and
Tuf” jeans—a ready-to-make kit of jeans components (denim, zipper, rivets, patch) priced
at about $6. It was distributed through a network of 4,000 tailors, many in small rural
towns and villages, whose self-interest motivated them to market the kits extensively.
Ruf and Tuf jeans are now the largest selling jeans in India, by far, easily surpassing
Levi’s and other brand names from the U.S. and Europe.
        Business models from the consumer economy blind firms to opportunities that
exist in the survival economy. Companies that look at poorer areas as dumping grounds
for wastes or outdated, dirty technologies and manufacturing facilities miss identifying
market “vacuums” with minimal competition. In the energy industry, for example, solar
power remains uncompetitive in the consumer economy, but is a particularly attractive
business opportunity in the survival economy, where centralized, grid-based systems of
electrical generation are prohibitively expensive. With nearly half of humanity lacking

24M. Baghai, S. Coley, D. White, C. Conn and R. McLean, “Staircases to growth,” McKinsey Quarterly,
1996, 4: pp. 39-61.

access to electric power, the opportunities for distributed, modularly deployed solar and
renewable energy have never looked more promising. Indeed, transmission lines cost
between $20,000 and $40,000 per mile to install. This makes alternative sources, such as
small-scale wind, photovoltaic, and hydro generators attractive for rural areas, bypassing
existing grids altogether. As a consequence, British Petroleum, Shell, and Amoco-Enron
have all initiated significant investments in solar and renewable energy.
       Firms that succeed in the survival economy do so because their managers
recognize the benefits of developing markets and building future customer bases. The
Korean chaebol Daewoo, stands as an example of a conglomerate that has decided to
focus its strategic attention where its rivals aren’t—the survival economy. Realizing the
limits of competing head-on with American, Japanese, and European firms in
overcrowded, technology-intensive markets of the consumer economy, Daewoo is
relocating much of its industrial base to remote areas of the world such as Burma, Iran,
Uzbekistan, Russia, China, Vietnam, Brazil, and Tatarstan where it can make long-term
investments in economic infrastructure. Daewoo enters poor regions as a long-term
“development partner” that offers skills in infrastructure planning, environmental
management, and manufacturing. When hard currency is scarce, the company accepts
barter. Uzbekistan, for example, is paying for their half of a joint venture factory with
cotton, which Daewoo’s trading arm sells on the world market. By using first mover
advantage to build relationships, Daewoo is enacting a long-range strategy of growing by
catering to the world’s poorest regions.
       Establishing a foothold in the survival economy allows a firm to meet basic needs
in the short run and grow as those needs mature over time. Twenty years ago, a college
professor in Bangladesh, Mohammed Yunas, was becoming increasingly disenchanted
with the state of the country. Surrounding his campus were growing numbers of people
living in abject poverty. Determined to do something that would improve their situation,
Yunas began by asking several of the locals what it would take to fundamentally change
their lives for the better. He was astonished to find out that in virtually every case, people
knew exactly what they needed (e.g. money to buy a cow, or supplies for home-based
production of products) and that the costs involved were minimal. He compiled a list of

48 people with needs that totaled only $75. Yunas loaned them the money out of his own
pocket, never expecting to see it again.
       Much to his surprise, within a three month period, each of the 48 people had paid
him back, with interest. He expanded his lending effort by guaranteeing loans made to
the poor by a local bank whose managers did not believe that the poorest of the poor were
credit worthy. After expanding this operation to several other villages Yunas decided to
create his own bank that focused on micro-credit to the region’s poorest. Today, the
Grameen Bank provides micro credit to more than 3 million customers in over 35,000
thousand villages in Bangladesh. In 1996, the bank lent over $1 billion in Bangladesh
with the average loan size being $15. Even more impressively, Grameen has achieved a
99% repayment rate, higher than virtually all banks in the United States.
       Most people receiving micro credit in rural Bangladesh were hampered by an
inefficient transportation system and lack of access to information, making further efforts
at self-improvement difficult. Yunas then realized that the Bank’s efforts could be greatly
enhanced through telecommunications. He started a new subsidiary, Grameen Phone,
with the vision of supplying wireless phone service to every village in Bangladesh.
Global telecom companies saw no potential in Bangladesh, because poor people could
not afford cellular phones, yet Yunas created a new business model by selling phones to
local entrepreneurs on credit, who then “sold” phone service to the residents in each
village. Grameen Phone has grown rapidly and been profitable from its inception because
cellular phone calls proved much more economical for residents than traveling for several
days on mules and buses to acquire some desired information.
       As telecommunications needs have grown more sophisticated, Yunas has now
turned his attention to extending services that include computer and internet connections
to rural villages.   The internet allows for the delivery of related services including
telebanking, telemedicine, and teleeducation. To build the necessary infrastructure, it has
become evident that villages need a source of “premium” power to run the more
advanced systems. Spearheading this development, Yunas has created Grameen Energy,
a subsidiary seeking to partner with producers of decentralized photovoltaic, wind, and
fuel cell based electrical generating systems. This, in turn, has opened up significant

business opportunities for alternative energy suppliers and, through volume purchase, has
brought costs down substantially.
        Yunas’s businesses have materially improved the way people live in rural
Bangladesh. As basic needs are met at the village level, pressure for migration to
overcrowded urban areas is reduced. Furthermore, citizens able to meet basic needs no
longer need to cut forests for cooking fuel, pollute and drink contaminated water, or avoid
expensive health care, thus strengthening their social and environmental systems. As
villages prosper, a growing economic base has jump-started entrepreneurship,
employment has increased, and the overall standard of living has improved. Firms like
Grameen Bank and Daewoo grow and prosper in tandem with these changes.

                                    A New Set of Metrics
Recognizing global sustainability as a catalyst of creative destruction and frame for new
business development may prove crucial to corporate survival in the 21st century.
Awareness and foresight are important first steps toward strategic change, but a new set
of metrics is also necessary to focus managerial attention and track progress toward
sustainability.   Without a clear understanding of how sustainability-driven creative
destruction can improve the economic payoff for the firm, it is unlikely that senior
managers will commit resources to such strategies. In this last section, we offer some
ideas for sustainability metrics tied to the three economies discussed above, and suggest
how these new metrics relate to key business and financial payoffs that are important to
the firm (Figure 4).

                                 Insert Figure 4 About Here

        Consumer Economy. The key sustainability challenge in the consumer economy
is to reduce the corporate footprint, or the impact business has on the natural environment
throughout its life cycle. To identify opportunities for material content reductions not

currently obvious to the firm, key metrics should capture and track the material- and
energy-intensiveness of the company’s products and processes—not just those emissions
required by regulations. Tracking pounds of materials used (and the proportion of that
which is toxic in nature), along with levels of greenhouse gas emissions, provides a quick
and inexpensive way to benchmark the firm’s footprint.
        For some companies, it will be desirable to gain a more detailed measure of the
footprint. This necessitates measuring “life cycle” impacts.25 The first step is to track the
amount of raw materials that are extracted from the earth to make a firm’s products or
services. Next, the manufacturing and distribution processes should be scrutinized for
additional materials use and waste generation. Finally, the firm should track the amount
of waste and pollution produced as its products are consumed and later disposed. Such
analyses will highlight opportunities for changes that can lead to the reduction, reuse, or
replacement of toxic materials and high impact activities. A full understanding of all
upstream and downstream impacts can spur a dramatic rethinking of product design and
        Firms should also track public perceptions regarding their products and services.
The goal should not be to broadly confirm the perception that the firm already holds of
itself. Instead, effort should be made to tap into the different views that exist at multiple
levels and include local communities immediately surrounding company facilities, as well
as regional, national, and international public opinion. There should be an attempt to
understand whether social values are shifting, and if so, in which direction. Tapping into
broad stakeholder attitudes and values, evaluated together with the measures above for
materials use, can help managers think about how their current offerings meet or fall short
of expectations. Through dematerialization, cost reduction, product portfolio changes,
and improved corporate reputation, strategies to reduce the corporate footprint should
help the firm achieve higher levels of earnings growth and improve it’s shareholder
value-added. As noted earlier, such metrics have enabled firms like DuPont to reevaluate

25 Traditionally, life-cycle analyses have been regarded as extremely complex and time-consuming
procedures that produce results of questionable utility. More recently, however, organizations such as
Battelle, Eco-Balance, Franklin Research, and Carnegie-Mellon’s Green Design Initiative have developed
simplified life cycle tools that produce more usable results.

their business portfolio and move toward creative destruction of their industry though the
systematic shrinking of the corporate footprint.
       Emerging Economy. The key sustainability challenge in the emerging economy
relates to avoiding the collision of meeting rising demand for products and services
without overburdening natural and social systems with outdated technology. In regions of
rapid industrialization, dramatic reductions in emission levels is a critical metric.
Additionally, strategies must lead to corporate activities that conserve water, land and
renewable resources.     Tracking the rates of natural resource use and replenishment
stemming from company initiatives is important for revealing opportunities for
sustainability-driven technological innovations. Metrics that capture the degree to which
brownfield sites are developed over greenfield sites or the degree to which a firm’s
products and services encourage urban development versus creeping sprawl can also help
direct attention to sustainable business strategies.
       Given the rapid rate of urban migration associated with emerging economies, it is
also crucial to track the rate of job creation and economic development associated with
corporate investments.      Measuring the percent of corporate assets invested in the
emerging economy provides a useful proxy for commitment to this aim. The creation of
urban jobs is particularly important so that corporate activities do not contribute further to
urban sprawl. As the demand for a growing range of products and services increases, the
emerging economy holds tremendous potential for growth in the coming years as
compared to the relatively saturated markets of the consumer economy.               As such,
business opportunities stemming from the emerging economy represent potential growth
engines for the firm. Over the medium term, tapping into these opportunities should lead
to increases in sales growth and increased value for a company’s stock.
       Survival Economy. The key sustainability challenge in the survival economy is
meeting the unmet basic needs of the poor so that they develop a solid economic
foundation and increase their quality of life. Few managers seriously consider those who
are not being served by their company’s current product or service portfolio. Here, we do
not mean those consumers who decide to purchase a competitor’s product. Rather, firms
should take time to understand the particular needs of those not actively engaged in the

market economy. These economic voids and vacuums offer small-scale commercial
opportunities that might grow to become tomorrow’s core businesses. Establishing and
growing the sales presence in the survival economy relative to the consumer or emerging
economies is an important measure of progress toward that goal.
       The survival economy lens should help extend the breadth of a firm’s service and
product offerings into the world’s down markets.         Strategies that build the social
infrastructure of potential markets through education, training, and increased worker
wages are also important. Products and services that can be applied on a small-scale will
enhance local community development and alleviate pressures for urbanization as
compared to large scale, centralized projects that degrade rural communities and
encourage urban migration.      The survival economy represents tomorrow’s business
opportunities. Creating a strong position that taps into this vast, emergent market will
help position a company for meeting the future needs and demands for the bulk of
humanity. Over the long term, investment in the survival economy should improve the
firm’s price-earnings ratio and share of new wealth creation.

Schumpeter was skeptical of the ability and motivation of large, incumbent corporations
to drive the process of creative destruction, but he did not dismiss it completely. He felt
that large investments in an installed asset base and misaligned managerial incentives
would conspire to reduce incumbents’ motivation to make their own established positions
obsolete.   Yet, he also recognized that, paradoxically, large corporations possess
financial, technical, and organizational resources that can not be matched by small,
entrepreneurial new entrants.
       By seizing the opportunities inherent in sustainable development, existing
corporations can drive the creation of new competitive landscapes.             To capture
sustainability-driven opportunities, however, corporations must fundamentally rethink
their prevailing views about strategy, technology, and markets.        This starts with an
understanding that there are multiple levels to what is currently regarded as a single
global economy. Focused attention at the three levels—consumer, emerging, and survival
economies—will enable managers to see business opportunities where now they see
none. Each level offers short, medium, and long-term payoffs arising from innovations
that simultaneously reinvent the firm around sustainable development while
fundamentally changing current industry structure.
       A new set of metrics focused on global sustainability will help managers direct
attention and take the first steps toward identifying the opportunities that will lead to
those innovations. The importance of taking that first step cannot be overemphasized.
Firms that hesitate and waver over global sustainability trends will become future cases
for business historians as new entrants systematically unseat them. Companies whose
managers treat sustainable development as a source of new opportunity will drive the
creative destruction process and build the foundation for their firms to compete in the 21st


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