The perplexing search for examples of sustainable development

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Courtesy of Richard MacLean & Associates, LLC

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) make up roughly 40–50% of gross domestic product (GDP) globally. These firms account for about two-thirds of innovations and are now widely regarded as the principal generators of net new employment, while the payrolls of large companies are shrinking in the United States. Indeed, SMBs are where the action is. What better place to find a powerful array of sustainable development innovations . . . or maybe not.

Last fall, I conducted a half-day sustainable development workshop for business executives on behalf of a client’s partners in Asia. Business managers do not care much for theory; they want relevant examples of what works and what does not. Since the workshop attendees were from SMBs, I wanted to incorporate new examples relevant to the audience into the presentation. Rolling out the oft-repeated stories of mega-corporations, such as GE (Ecomagination), Wal-Mart (Green Gold), Proctor & Gamble (Sustainable Innovation), and DuPont (champion of the U.S. States Climate Action Partnership [USCAP]), just wouldn’t cut it.

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