Chris Sherwin, Head of Sustainability at Seymourpowell:
As Head of Sustainability at leading design and innovation company Seymourpowell, I try to keep a keen eye out for signals of sustainable innovation scaling up. So it certainly caught my eye that last month’s Fast Company had an article naming Chinese environmental campaigner Ma Jun top of its Most Creative People in Business list.
For those who don’t know, Fast Company coverage is a pretty good barometer of the cutting edge of global innovation, so this is a pretty important development – showing a maturing and mainstreaming of the field of sustainable innovation. This particular ranking comes off the back of the Fast Company’s Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in March, which I reported as having a similarly strong and positive green tinge.
Ma Jun’s work, as Founder and Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), has helped drive transparency, disclosure and improvements across the supply chains of major global corporations like Nike, WalMart, Levis, Coca-cola, GE. The well-charted corporate move to outsource manufacturing to the Far East, for cost and competitiveness reasons, can often have a darker shadow that leads to accusations of social and environmental exploitation. The IPE has become a central force in challenging and eliminating supply chain malpractice in Chinese factories.
Its not everyday you see an environmentalist rewarded for great creativity, so this is quite important for two reasons. It helps positions sustainability around innovation, positivity, optimism and action – which it all too often isn’t. If the list is to be believed, you might now find leading edge innovators not just in technology, IT, R&D, science, business or art schools, but also from the modern environmental movement.
Secondly, Ma Jun’s IPE are acclaimed for transforming that other beacon of innovation – Apple – for the use of hazardous chemical in their manufacturing supply chain. As a result, Apple has upped its sustainability game, going on to disclose its Supplier-Responsibility report, and committing to work with IPE over the next few years. It is a crushing irony that the Fast Company itself voted Apple the worlds most innovative company, in a similar survey just two months ago. This dichotomy reflects my own view that in future, innovation leaders will need to be sustainability leaders – as the reputational risks of burying your head in the sand will be just too great.
Given their prevalence, it would be easy to dismiss or feel jaded by yet another league table like this Fast Company offering. Yet Ma Jun topping a list of so many leading creatives and entrepreneurs is, in my opinion, an important milestone for sustainability and innovation.
Chris Sherwin is Head of Sustainability at Seymourpowell, a leading design and innovation company. At Seymourpowell, we are ultimately about making things better: better for people,better for business and better for the world. Chris has worked for 15 years on linking sustainability to innovation, products and design, with many high profile global businesses. He previously held positions with Forum for the Future, Philips and Electrolux.
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