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The Sustainability Movement in Europe

by Mickael Drouard

Building a sustainable future? Of course that’s what we all want…but how?

One of the main levers to achieving that goal has to do with building new economic systems – new business models aimed at creating wealth for the present and preserving wealth for the future. Are European companies ready to change and invent new models? Some are. In Bordeaux, France, 70 business leaders met in June 2010 to explore a question: How can we co-create new business models serving both humans and nature?

Instead of a traditional conference, the three organizers – Les Entreprises Humaines (The Human Companies - a professional association of business leaders promoting human values in business), Colibris(a large French ecological movement), and Awareness (a consulting firm specializing in facilitating collective intelligence for a sustainable future) – hosted an “open space.”* They believe that our future depends on our collective intelligence and have literally opened up a space for company leaders to collaborate and co-create their solutions.

At the conclusion of their meeting, they agreed on the following conditions/characteristics for a new model of business that serves both humans and nature:

1. Make sure that the purpose of the company supports the changes toward sustainability and respect for humans and nature. Profits and growth shall only be means to that goal. Company values are the core of the business model.

2. Develop a culture that appreciates people and is dedicated to their potential (instead of focusing on weaknesses). This will enhance their creativity and invite innovation and solutions for the future.

3. Share leadership: Allow all actors to become authors of their function, their products, and their company. The manager’s role is not to give direction but to facilitate a co-creative process of decision-making and productivity.

4. Be transparent toward all stakeholders – about failures as well as difficulties – in order to create real trust. Share real issues, intentions, and questions with your employees.

5. Develop coherence across values. This is the core of the business model, implemented with employees and translated into the managerial culture.

6. Evolve from hierarchy and competition toward collaboration: ensure that new collaborative decision-making processes include all stakeholders (see Sociocracy and Holacracy**). Create circles for employees to express their ideas, reactions, and questions.

7. Understand your deep dependence on the biosphere; emphasize minimum or no negative impact.

8. Orient the culture toward personal and professional fulfillment. Provide every employee with all means needed to become responsible for his/her well being.

9. Prioritize for production without destruction. In a context of limited resources, companies shall follow the model of nature in which all waste is recycled into other production processes (“cradle to cradle” model).

10. Join networks of innovative entrepreneurs and share your experience.

* Open Space Technology (OST), created by Harrisson Owen, is a facilitation technology dedicated to fostering creativity and collaboration in a group.

** Sociocracy and Holacracy are collective intelligence technologies dedicated to governance. Their purpose is to achieve higher levels of performance by including all stakeholders in decision-making processes.

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