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‘Creationism’ Comes to WEF? Innovation Dominates the Discussion in Tianjin

At last week’s “Summer Davos,” the annual World Economic Forum meeting in China, talk about innovation was everywhere. Not surprisingly, the sense of the meeting was that waiting for governments to set consistent rules and incentives for a low-carbon economy is a fool’s game.

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At
last week’s “Summer Davos,” the annual World Economic Forum meeting in China, talk
about innovation was everywhere.

Not
surprisingly, the sense of the meeting was that waiting for governments to set
consistent rules and incentives for a low-carbon economy is a fool’s game. At
last year’s event, talk was thick and furious about COP15 in Copenhagen, where Yvo
de Boer, then the UN’s chief climate negotiator, was the star of the show at
the Summer Davos. Now, there is slim hope that a deal will emerge this year,
next year, or anytime soon. 

This
means companies have to get on with it, and at this “Annual Meeting of the New
Champions,” featuring companies from emerging economies and high-tech start-ups,
innovation is the name of the game.

This was on display in the session I moderated about cities and sustainability,
“Rethinking Urbanization.” In fact, Hindustan Construction Company CEO Ajit
Gulabchand is starting from scratch by building a completely new town in the
hills three hours from Mumbai. His aim with the town, Lavasa, is to create a
livable, sustainable city for about 300,000 residents (a small town by
comparison to the mega-cities). The website for Lavasa Future Cities outlines an
ambitious vision, stating that “Lavasa is a replicable model of the future
Asian cities by bringing world-class standards to Indian urban life.”

What’s
interesting is that this involves not only the built environment, but also a
public-private governance model, with Cisco and Indian IT powerhouse Wipro also
joining the project.

On
its face, this smacks of privatized justice and administration, which raises
all sorts of questions. But if it enables progress and makes wise use of
natural resources, then there is some value in the model.

 So
while we often think about innovation in terms of products, business process,
or business models, here is a case of business innovation that is reshaping
human habitats and governance, and it’s a great example of the experimentation
that was on display at the Summer Davos. And as Hindustan makes clear, unless
we find a way to create sustainable, healthy, and prosperous lives for the
hundreds of millions of people moving to cities in the fast-growing economies
of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, our collective progress will hit a major
speed bump—or wall.

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About the author

Aron Cramer is President and CEO of BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability. He is also coauthor of the book Sustainable Excellence, about the corporate responsibility strategies that drive business success.

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