The Stern Review: A corporate social opportunity

Design is not the only profession who will reap immense benefits as a result of listening to The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change’s key nuggest of information. The final paragraph from the Chartered Society of Designers statement emphasizes the role of the corporation and the shift away from the passive aid of corporate social responsibility towards the more empowering concept of corporate social opportunity.

If the figures turn out to be wrong in 2050 and there was no threat, then we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours in having created economic growth, cut energy emissions and established fundamental role in business for design practice.

Sir Nicholas Stern stated in his presentation that this could not be left solely to government and that individuals would not take it seriously if business did not play its part. We firmly believe that the design profession has a greater role to play than most and the Society will endeavour to ensure that it does.

Why do I say this is greater than an opportunity for just one industry? A few data points come to mind, the increasing shift towards social design issues, the need for responsible design and development of products, and of course, the increasing awareness of our shrinking resources etc.

All of these point to the search for solutions for everyday problems [what designers do best] but within the tightest constraints possible. Minimal footprint, the optimum solution – a balance between materials used, energy consumed yet elegantly solving the problem at hand. Operations Research provides the trick – I’m not saying the Carpenter’s Problem should be applied directly, but if you look at the concept of solving for the optimal solution within the constraints and inequalities given, then one can derive a similar concept when considering the next source of innovative thinking and new product solutions. Furthermore, the concept of rapid prototyping within the design constraints can be mapped on to the shaded area under the graph [representational of concept only].

Those at the bottom of the pyramid are resourceful, creative and innovative – they have to be, they’re motivated by the basic needs of food and shelter. They cannot afford to be risk averse, they have truly nothing to lose. Numerous ingenious solutions have emerged, and as they have been developed under the most adverse conditions, are as ecologically sound as possible in terms of materials, recycling, energy etc consumed.

What I propose is that take Prof Anil Gupta’s work at the National Innovation Foundation, where teams of field workers keep their eye open for inventions in their travels through rural India and expand this into a global network.

Apparently not everyone ‘gets it’.  According to the article,
while recently attending a conference where rural marketing gurus spoke
of their approaches to capturing the largely untapped volumes of rural
consumption, Gupta was "shocked at how little those marketers knew
about rural India.

All they could talk about was dumbing down their
advertising, and redesigning products for their rural markets, somehow
implying rural people are less intelligent, and less desirous of
quality products.
When we talk of India as a knowledge economy, we
assume rural people will be employed only in the lowest value-adding
activities and never as providers of knowledge. That is absurd.

That is absurd isn’t it? Almost as absurb as thinking that if you cross a linguistic or cultural barrier you have to do the same. The concept and approach are the same, regardless of fiscal strength. Being poor doesn’t mean you’re stupid.

The dots connect across the rural innovation – bottom of the pyramid – CSR – opportunity – innovation – Stern Review – global warming – green product design and the need for new solutions to an age old problem.

Where do we go from here?

This entry was posted in Business, Design, India/China/Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Stern Review: A corporate social opportunity

  1. anil gupta says:

    pl do look up recent issues of honey bee at and also see recent papers at
    all the best

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