The business leaders of tomorrow - MBA and other post-graduate students - will find opportunity in unexpected places as the world shifts to a low carbon economy.
That is why Ashridge Business School, in association with HP, WWF and the European Academy of Business in Society (EABIS), held a competition on sustainable innovation among students in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Thinking from scratch
This year's Ashridge Sustainable Innovation Award challenged the students to submit ideas about how organisations can innovate to create value from the shift to a low carbon economy.
Award-winner Jonathan Alexander, a Masters student at Bath University, says that in a world where business success and environmental responsibility increasingly go hand in hand, much depends on the ability to think from scratch.
"Businesses are the most powerful force in society today," he wrote in the winning essay, "and carry a corresponding burden of responsibility."
His entry explored the concept of sustainable innovation by comparing the emergence of hybrid cars in the American motor industry to the efforts of Noble-prize winner Muhammad Yunus to create an affordable vehicle for the people of Bangladesh.
"The switch to a low carbon economy," he adds, "is the prerequisite for the creation of financial value in the future… and not the other way around."
Jonathan receives the top prize of €7,000 and will be presented with his award by a member of the Swedish government at the EU Presidency conference, 'Eco-efficient Economy - Towards Innovative and Sustainable Competitiveness,' held in Linköping, Sweden on 2 November 2009.
Second place was awarded to Luc Petit from Ashridge Business School and third place went to Srikanth Madani from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
In addition to cash prizes, the three students will receive career advice from representatives of Spencer Stuart, the global executive search consultants. Jonathan will also receive a mentorship with HP.
Business opportunity and environmental necessity
In his essay, Luc Petit charts a business model for British charities in which they would benefit from the trade in locally grown food, -- "a business opportunity as well as an environmental necessity."
Srikanth Madani describes how organisations or individuals could measure carbon emissions using a mobile telephone. This simple but all-important step would help people and corporations reduce carbon emissions, with little or no capital investment.
Madani drew inspiration, in part, from a WWF paper, "IT solutions that help Business and the Planet," which was also supported by HP. It explores the role that existing IT technologies could play in the creation of a low-carbon future.
Professor Gilbert Lenssen, President of EABIS comments: "The students who are able to address the strategic issues that climate challenge presents to business in an innovative way are those most likely to be the next generation of business leaders. The award recognises MBA students as critically important drivers of change."
For Dennis Pamlin, global policy advisor to WWF, the award is "a great opportunity to ensure that people in business see global challenges like climate change as an opportunity. We hope that this award will encourage more students to think outside the box and develop new ideas." As part of the Award, Pamlin visited eleven partner universities of EABIS and HP to hold workshops on sustainable innovation.
Coinciding with its 50th anniversary as a business school, this is the ninth Ashridge award run among management and business students to find the most thought provoking essays and ideas on the changing role of business in society.
"As a society we are coming up with all kinds of technological innovations to help with this move toward a low carbon economy," says Matt Gitsham, Director of the Centre for Business and Sustainability at Ashridge Business School.
"But what we also need to do is to actually change the way we think as a society. That's why it is so important that the leaders of tomorrow are considering these issues as part of their business education today. That's why we created the award."
HP and WWF join forces
HP and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), two of the partners in the Ashridge Sustainable Innovation Award, are already engaged in a joint initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are leveraging HP technology to advance the science and practice of adapting to climate change.
As part of the partnership, WWF encouraged HP employees to come up with climate-smart ideas that can help HP's customers reduce their carbon footprint. The most promising ideas contributed to a report showing how ICT services can lead to an annual reduction of up to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide globally.
HP and WWF have identified ten solution areas where ICT innovations can contribute to the shift to a low carbon economy. One of these areas is 'Smart Work,' in which new communication tools are leveraged to avoid business trips and commuting.
Business travel is a major business expense and a source of greenhouse gas emissions for HP and its global customers. To come up with an environmental alternative to the airplane, HP's engineers created HP's Halo Virtual Collaboration System (VCS), a state-of-the-art broadcast studio for "face-to-face" business meetings. Sitting in a Halo room, users have the impression that they are looking through a window at their life-size colleagues. The crystal clear picture conveys every nod and gesture and everyone's voice is heard at once. Businesses have the ability to connect up to four Halo studios - they could be on four continents - with a few clicks of a mouse.
"IT can also significantly reduce emissions in other areas, such as smart buildings, smart commerce, industrial production, and dematerialisation services," explains Gabriele Zedlmayer, HP Vice President, Office of global Social Innovation. "HP has been working with WWF, a strong partner who is also supporting the Ashridge Sustainable Innovation Award, to look at the potential savings in these areas."