Enemy of the Same: The Second Generation of Sustainability

The hunting of sperm wales for their extracted oil did not end due to ‘resource limitation’ rather engineers figured out what to do with petroleum. The decimation of the wale population while reaching a critical level was not stopped by international agreements and by heads of states. Rather a technological option was found that surpassed the cumbersome process of rowing next to a wale and sinking a spear into it and the going for a ride. The limitation was imposed by this long ‘production’ process and with dwindling natural population.

There are two simple points brought about by this story. First, the natural environment does have limits, and if we rely on the natural environment then we must abide by those limits. Second, technology emerges that not just solves those environmental limits but offers the possibility to be better than the natural option and can fuel new economic sectors. Our current economic system is underpinned by oil. Reducing our reliance on this natural product and fueling the global economy with new (energy) technologies is a significant challenge. So where do we start? The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

corvette 2014
The new generation of sustainability in business

In the era of sustainable business we can perceive two generations of environmental business awareness. The first generation is based on identifying waste in the production process, aligning firm values to environmental values (good for employee moral), protect brand image and getting ahead of campaigns by environmental and social NGOs, establishing base lines of environmental impacts.Overall, these environmental steps lead to increasing the competitive advantage of firms. I’ll take this as general and accepted knowledge. This is first generation of corporate sustainability.

The second generation is well underway by the firms that realized early on of the benefits of completely redesigning the production process and a product from the ground up. I don’t mean tracking down the environmental and social impact of each chemical and component that goes into an existing product and thus making it ‘green’. The second generation of sustainable products means viewing the environmental constraints (less pollution – carrying capacity of the Earth, etc.) and pushing the design and engineering envelope. Innovation in product design. ‘Enemy of the Same’ is a great slogan used for the 2014 Corvette Stingray. This thinking underlines the second generation in sustainability. It means destroying the old way of thinking and redesigning a product from the ground up.

Watch this video and notice how the car is completely re-engineered – the weight, the components and the design is done to the highest level of efficiency. In the end, we talk about maximizing different types of energy usage and achieving the greatest level of efficiency in the interactions within the car.

There are three points that can be drawn from the video.

  1. The driving assumption of pushing the Corvette is the increasing fuel standards from the Obama Administration. Fuel efficiency in cars must increase to 54.5 mpg by the year 2025. Think of the Corvette as a concept car in a new production process in an era of high millage standards. For those that ask where is the switch away from oil, the use of aluminum frames and composite materials also is in the Tesla electric car. So innovation and understanding how to mass produce highly fuel efficient vehicles feeds into a new generation of cars.
  2. The re-balancing of components and technologies in the car results in the complete redesign of the car (innovations in materials and propulsion). This is not swapping out an environmentally damaging product for one sourced more sustainably. Rather the R&D is done, integrated into the car and integrated in the whole transport system of the car. The efficiency and power is optomized.
  3. The mass of the car is taking into account. The less mass that has to be moved, the smaller the propulsion system. You can have a heavy steal framed car but then you also need to have a large engine size to match. Here they are reducing the mass, enabling the engine to push less mass. Thus your zero to 60 test and time improves. The mass is reduced through the use of new materials – and integrating into the whole car increasing the ‘system’ efficiency of the vehicle as a whole (side note – think of what could be done in buildings if we designed at a massive scale along these lines).

Enemy of the same. Perfecting the car and the integration of new technologies in a recognizable format. The second generation of sustainability emerges in this holistic approach.The technologies are the physical manifestation of deeper relationships and working with new materials. The physical and design properties of aluminum are different from steel. The manufacturing process is different. The knowledge to integrate these systems together is different from the last generation of cars – that attempted to be sustainable. Tracking material flows and their environmental and social impact is necessary to establish a baseline. The concept of the second generation of sustainability in business relies on innovation in materials and production process that use environmental limits (identified in the regulatory arena) as engineering and design goals. Achieving these goals – and increasing the performance of a product – is what will lead us to a new era of sustainability in business.