Sustainability is The New Driver of Innovation.

I’ve been talking to the Nike folks lately and learning a lot about viewing sustainability as an energizer of innovation and a growth engine for corporations. This is important because however much people want to perceive sustainability in terms of “limits to growth” and “restraint on excess,” we need to link it to economic expansion and business development if it is ever going to have any chance of succeeding in the US. Harnessing sustainability to change the WAY we grow—Bill McDonough’s cradle-to-cradle paradigm—is critical.

With the political election season starting to heat up, I would like candidates to begin moving beyond yakking about global warming as a threat to a conversation about the kind of solutions that make sense for us. Promoting sustainability as a business enterprise offers enormous opportunities for new products, new processes and new profits. We have all been critical of the corporate community in the US for being so far being Europe on the sustainability issue. But, frankly, it has only been the last year or two that the culture at large has tipped green. Now everyone from IBM and GE to a whole slew of startups such as bio-clothes maker Nau, are piling. This is a very good thing.

And stay tune to Nike. It has a big announcement on sustainability coming up. Marketers and brand managers should watch what Nike is about to do. There is a real, but small market for what I call “hairshirt” environmentalism, which asks for people to do less. I myself fall into that category, believing that we should live lightly on the land (who really needs 30,000 square feet McMansions?) and “consume” by way of having great experiences in our natural environment, not gobbling up more stuff.

But most folks want “more,” as Seth Godin puts it and you can have that “more” in a much better, planet-friendly way (as McDonough points out, forests grow and they grow fast—but they’re not polluting). The US and European cultures want this kind of growth. Corporations have to follow or fail.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.