With the global population expected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050 and rapid economic growth in developing countries, pressure on the planet’s ecosystems will continue to increase. Population expansion will raise demand for the basic necessities of water, food, and energy. Moreover, economic growth will reinforce expectations and aspirations for a better life among the world’s newest consumers.
With that in mind, the World Economic Forum in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) sought unconventional but practical solutions to the current challenges of growth, aiming to identify and support key business practices and relay them to the global community. The study deliberately did not look to governments, environmental organizations, or multinationals from advanced economies—all sources of well-practiced but as yet insufficient answers. Instead, it went to agents that deal with a wide range of constraints every day: rapidly growing companies originating and operating in the emerging markets, where economic prosperity and populations are growing fastest and environmental constraints are often greatest.
The study’s findings are promising. Companies from emerging markets are actively tackling environmental and social challenges in their regions while growing quickly—and profitably. The companies—labeled the “New Sustainability Champions”—are based in nations such as China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Kenya, and the Philippines.
The companies—including Equity Bank, a Kenyan financial services provider, and Manila Water, a utility in the Philippines—are in the vanguard of businesses working to solve fundamental environmental and social challenges and to reshape their business landscapes. Collectively and individually, these companies are becoming inspirational models not only for their emerging-market peers but also for businesses worldwide.
The resulting report, titled Redefining the Future of Growth: The New Sustainability Champions, demonstrates that innovation of all kinds is burgeoning in emerging markets—the very regions where the pressures on everything from arable land to fresh water and fish stocks will be felt most keenly. The report provides a welcome counterpoint to regular reports chronicling the continued depletion of the Earth’s natural resources.
The report notes that these New Sustainability Champions are more than just symbols. Their overall performance matters because emerging markets in total are set to contribute more than three-quarters of global growth by 2012. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to be about 30 percent greater than it is today. By 2025, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, and South Korea together will account for more than 50 percent of the world’s growth.
The report highlights three broad sets of characteristics shared by the New Sustainability Champions: they continually invest in innovation to turn constraints into opportunities, typically eschewing expensive research into new technologies in favor of making current products cheaper, more widely available, or better suited to local production processes; they embed sustainability in their company culture; and they proactively shape their own business environments.
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