The Road Ahead
To summarize, the greening initiatives of the late 1980s and early 1990s were revolutionary, if insufficient, steps: They repositioned social and environmental issues as profit-making opportunities rather than profit-spending obligations. More recent "beyond greening" strategies are even more significant: They hold the potential to reorient corporate portfolios around inherently clean technologies and create a more inclusive form of global capitalism that embraces the four billion poor at the base of the economic pyramid. If narrowly construed, however, such strategies still position MNCs as outsiders, alien to both the cultures and the ecosystems within which they do business. The challenge is for multinationals to move beyond "alien" strategies imposed from the outside to become truly indigenous to the places in which they operate. To do so will require companies to widen their corporate bandwidths and develop entirely new "native" capabilities that emphasize deep dialogue and local codevelopment. A more inclusive commerce thus requires innovation not just in technology, but also in business models, business processes, and mental frames.
Indeed, over the past ten years, "Clean Technology" and "Base of the Pyramid" strategies have exploded onto the scene, and social entrepreneurship has emerged as a new force for innovation. Each strategy provides important pieces to the sustainable enterprise puzzle: The former contributes "next generation" technologies with dramatically lower environmental impacts, and the latter creates innovative new ways to reach and include all of humanity in the capitalist dream. Yet each also comes with its own baggage and blind spots. Therefore, a crucial next step is to converge these strategies into what I call the "Green Leap." Such a strategic convergence recognizes that clean technologies are almost always "disruptive" in character. (That is, they threaten incumbents in current served markets at the top of the pyramid.) As a result, the base of the pyramid might be the best place to focus initial commercialization attention. At the same time, the Green Leap approach also recognizes that successful strategies must be cocreated with communities and local partners so as to ensure cultural embeddedness, rather than imposing technological solutions from the top down.41
Given the urgency of both the need and opportunity described here, Cornell's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise launched the Cornell Global Forum on Sustainable Enterprise—an initiative to accelerate the rate of change toward this Great Convergence in the world. Indeed, nearly 100 of the world's leading practitioners on the forefront of the "Green Leap" participated as delegates to explore entrepreneurial strategies for the growth and scaling of ventures in the "convergence zone." The inaugural Global Forum was held in New York City, June 1–3, 2009, and the plan is to build this initiative into a growing global social network and an ongoing business movement.
Thus, as we enter the second decade of the new millennium, capitalism truly does stand at a crossroads. The old strategies of the industrial age are no longer viable. The time is now for the birth of a new, more inclusive form of commerce, one that lifts the entire human family while at the same time replenishing and restoring nature. The path to a sustainable world, however, will be anything but smooth. It will be a bumpy ride strewn with the remains of companies that variously dragged their feet, made promises they could not keep, bet on the wrong technology, collaborated with the wrong partners, and separated their social and business agendas. Only those companies with the right combination of vision, strategy, structure, capability, and audacity will succeed in what could be the most important transition period in the history of capitalism.