13 June 2023

Marion Banide

Beyond the hype: sustainable impact also goes step by step

Entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and politicians like to dream about breakthrough innovations that change the world in one fell swoop. But in fact, real change demands a multitude of small-scale innovations. Together they add up to make a real difference. Innovation and sustainability are not just for frontrunners. Marion Banide, Account Director at Hague Corporate Affairs explains why all companies, small and large, can make an impact.

In early June, a train accident in India caused the deaths of more than 275 people. A passenger train collided head-on with a freight train – the deadliest train disaster in two decades. According to observers, the tragedy sheds a harsh light on the poor quality of infrastructure and the dire lack of maintenance in some regions.

When it comes to railroads, the government in India has been mostly concerned with developing high-speed trains. On the very same day of the accident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy inaugurating new high-speed trains with great fanfare. India is significantly behind countries such as China and Japan in that regard and hopes to bridge that gap by innovating massively in innovative and advanced mobility. But even the greatest innovation is not enough to hide existing deficiencies sometimes. Maintenance is usually a priority only when accidents happen. This phenomenon highlights an uneasy but widespread bias: we prefer to be engaged in grand and compelling innovations rather than incremental improvements to existing systems.

Important lesson

There is an important lesson to be learned here, not only for governments but for businesses. Climate policy, the energy transition, and sustainable agriculture; these are all major projects that cannot be accomplished overnight. Making the economy sustainable requires a long-lasting stream of incremental improvements and micro-innovations.

Companies like Tesla are stealing the show. But not every company can conquer the world in a Tesla-like fashion. And they don’t have to. Because Tesla’s success is only possible thanks to hundreds and probably thousands of suppliers with expertise in batteries, software, and electric motors – not to mention the capital flows of investors flocking in to get a piece of the cake.

Not just frontrunners

This is why we should not just bet on the frontrunners in the great transition. An innovation like Hyperloop is fantastic, but what good is fast transport through vacuum tubes for people in remote villages if the good old bus doesn’t even stop in their hometown anymore? Or if the remaining buses are diesel-powered and extremely polluting? In addition to frontrunners, companies are needed to future-proof existing infrastructures, products and services and keep them accessible. In the specific area of mobility, true sustainability is also achieved through transport network improvement and territorial cohesion. 

Speaking about technique in the transportation system, the continued development of conventional trains is just as important as pioneering innovations such as the Hyperloop or autonomous driving cars. Some companies develop sensors and smart software to predict which parts of a train need replacement. Preventive maintenance then prevents technical failures, avoiding accidents and ensuring punctual schedules. Not as sexy as the Hyperloop, perhaps, but nevertheless essential to provide a quality, sustainable – and inclusive! – deployment of services.

What contribution do you make?

Making the economy more sustainable does not happen in one big bang. Both large and small innovations are needed. It is important for companies to reflect on their purpose: what large or small contribution do you want to make to a better future? Every step is worth taking and being reflected upon.

Communicate openly and honestly about the contribution you are working on. Greenwashing is, of course, out of the question. But engaging in this preliminary exercise can make you aware of your own role, which also makes you more alert to new opportunities. Communicating about your
purpose is good for your company’s reputation and your attractiveness in the job market. Moreover, it puts you in the spotlight on a more strategic level. Technical companies often find it easier to find an entry at the executive level this way.

Want to know more?

Do you need help identifying your unique contribution to making the economy more sustainable, and could you use support with a plan to communicate this effectively? If so, let’s grab a coffee and discuss your impact. Click here to contact  Marion Banide. 

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13 June 2023

Marion Banide

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