Janina Benz

Priti Ambani: “Sustainability is a life-long process”

Priti Ambani is a thought leader and prominent writer on social and environmental enterprises, start-ups and Web 2.0 businesses. She is the Managing Editor of Ecopreneurist, a notable business blog. Specializing in her ability to work with impact organizations from the ground up, Priti has developed successful business and communications strategies for fledgling start-ups, social and environmental enterprises. She also serves as a sustainability consultant at GreenDen Consultancy and advises on corporate social responsibility and the triple bottom line. Priti is a Professional Engineer and holds a Master’s degree in Biological Resources Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Janina Benz: What’s changed most about sustainable business within the last five years?

Priti Ambani: The last five years have been quite transformational. The recession made many people re-think sustainability in extreme ways. Some business owners distanced themselves from their “good business” goals as a cost-saving measure, while others doubled down on environmental and social responsibility as a way to increase the bottom line. The conversation has moved on from “what can I do to help our environment?” to “what can I do to sustain my business?” and the answer has involved being more efficient with resources and minimizing waste. Some new trends have emerged that replacing traditional business models.

  • Creating Shared Value: Many Fortune 500 corporations are now looking to create economic value while also creating value for society. Their success stories in saving hundreds of millions of dollars through energy efficiency, waste and water management have been plain to see and emulate.
  • Social Enterprise and Public-Private Partnerships: The social enterprise sector, which couples core social and environmental goals with revenue generation models, has grown in the last five years with tremendous contributions from organizations like Ashoka.
  • Environment for Innovation: Whether it is the White House’s Innovation Program or GE’s Ecomagination, problem solvers are looking for creative solutions from both from internal stakeholders as well as through open innovation. Incubators and startup hubs like the Unreasonable Institute are encouraging a re-think of business models for the 21st century.
  • Cleanweb & Web 2.0: The advent of smart phones, web-based applications and the digital age has helped gather huge data sets that present insight into our behaviors.

JB: Do you feel that people “get” sustainability, or is there a need for more education?

PA: Sustainability is a life-long process. People “get” sustainability in varying degrees, but we need a more holistic understanding to trickle down to the masses. Consumers need to understand their buying power and choices help make the long-term case for sustainability.

JB: Which country do you feel is a role model in regards to sustainability, and why?

PA: There are many leaders in the sustainability space in the world today; Western Europe has traditionally been ahead in the sustainability mindset. Denmark is a great example of how decades of good energy policy can help a country become self-reliant. The rest of the world is catching up though; China, Brazil and India are making record investment in clean technology. I will refrain from calling out a “role model” as sustainable behavior is very complex and is closely associated with geography, culture, and economics. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, and we want to adopt ideas and tailor them to suit ground conditions.

JB: How is the social services and sustainability startup scene evolving?

PA: Innovators around the world are realizing the huge economic, environmental and social benefits of creating a holistic business model that works for and integrates some of the most underserved communities. They are sprouting in every sector with different backgrounds and experiences, and pushing the boundaries with the multi-dimensional solutions. The challenge is fueling social entrepreneurs who see these big opportunities and untapped potential to create meaningful impact.

JB: What do you think is the most important thing people should understand when talking about cleantech?

PA: The key issue for cleantech projects to be successful is scale. Our energy problems are of a high magnitude, so for any solution to make an impact, in terms of both emissions and meeting energy needs, it has to be adopted widely.

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