The Sustainable Tactics You Don’t Know, But Should

By Jay Friedlander

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The Sustainable Tactics You Don’t Know, But Should

The University of Technology and Engineering in Lima, Peru received global acclaim for redesigning the advertising medium itself by developing billboards that purify air, produce drinking water, and grow organic produce (Image credit: FCB Mayo Peru)

Regenerative marketing and collaborative exchange are two of many tactics offering businesses pathways to sustainability.

Many enterprises have employed business models and process frameworks such as Freemium, razor/razorblade, kaizen, and design thinking to help them cut through complexity and guide decisions by unifying language, clarifying direction, and improving understanding among leaders, teams, and investors.

Sustainable enterprises achieve these same results and more with models and frameworks such as the sharing economy and biomimicry, which are designed to create social, economic, and ecological abundance. The term “abundance” refers to a virtuous cycle of activity that can simultaneously reduce risks, cuts costs, and grow sales by solving social issues, strengthening community, eliminating waste, and restoring the environment. Two emerging abundance tactics among many that show promise (see Figure 1) are regenerative marketing and collaborative exchange.

Regenerative Marketing: Redeploying the 22nd Largest Economy

In 2016, global advertising spending is expected to surpass $570 billion, rivaling the gross domestic product of Sweden — a huge pool of capital that could be used for new, more sustainable outcomes through regenerative marketing activities.

Regenerative marketing throws out mass-media marketing models and replaces them with fresh creative approaches to solve problems. It bolsters brand equity by forging authentic connections with customers and employees, especially the values-driven, ad-skipping millennial generation.

For example, since 2002 outdoor retailer L.L.Bean has contributed $3.25 million to sponsor the free Island Explorer bus system in Acadia National Park and the surrounding communities. During that time, 5 million passengers and 33 million park visitors, young families, and outdoor enthusiasts encountered the branded buses multiple times per day. Through its support, the iconic Maine company reduced vehicle trips in the “Down East” region by 1.9 million, eliminating 26.7 tons of emissions.

Regenerative marketing also works across industries. In lieu of a typical video promoting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, producer Casey Neistat exemplified the movie’s theme of living your dreams. After a devastating typhoon struck the Philippines, he traveled there and spent his $25,000 budget on humanitarian relief. " target="_blank">His promotional video documenting the experience received 1.9 million more YouTube views than the official movie trailer.

Similarly, the University of Technology and Engineering in Lima, Peru received global acclaim for redesigning the advertising medium itself by developing billboards that purify air, produce drinking water, and grow organic produce. In the food service industry, Panera serves 1 million pay-what-you-can meals in their four Panera Cares cafes, simultaneously ameliorating food insecurity while building brand equity.

Figure 1: Tactics for Sustainable Enetrprises 

This suite of 15 tactics offers companies established methodologies to reimagine their enterprise, sketch out scenarios, and plan new initiatives and ventures.

mit sloan ffig 1

Collaborative Exchange: Replacing the Lifeblood of Business

Changing marketing is only the beginning. Collaborative exchange upends a core tenet of contemporary business, namely, paying for goods and services with government-issued currencies. Enterprises using collaborative exchange forego sovereign currencies and accept either independently issued currencies or non-monetary recompense in time, labor, or barter.

The products and platforms of collaborative exchange can increase economic activity, expand participation, and build community resilience both locally and globally.

Bitcoin’s $6.4 billion market capitalization in February 2016 demonstrates the potential for alternative currencies as a means of exchange. While the explosion of digital currencies has raised concerns, a George Mason University study found that Bitcoin lowers transaction costs, facilitating financial services for the poor. Furthermore, since Bitcoin transcends national borders, it provides a financial lifeline to people in countries experiencing monetary or political crises and keeps activist finances beyond government control, helping to protect civil liberties.

Technology has also spawned a renaissance in local currencies and bartering. According to the Complimentary Currency Resource Center, local currency platforms, like Berkshares in Massachusetts, increased almost nine-fold since 1996 and facilitate $468 million of trade. TimeBanks, where users exchange an hour of labor for an hour of services, are now active in over 32 countries.

Barriers are falling as tools and templates make it easier to create local currencies and sidestep traditional ones. With 5 million users, Cyclos provides local currency templates and facilitates transactions using time, bartering, and local money. More significantly, Cyclos is using their platform for mobile banking, micro-finance loan repayments, and facilitating remittances for the unbanked, blurring the lines between sovereign currency and collaborative exchange.

In addition to collaborative exchange and regenerative marketing, the additional 13 additional tactics shown in Figure 1 summarize the sustainability business models and process frameworks that start-ups and Fortune 100 companies are using across industries to build abundance. These tactics provide concrete means to achieve sustainability goals and — in concert with the Abundance Cycle Canvas, which will be addressed in the next blog in this series — ensure strategic alignment to maximize gains for all a company’s stakeholders.

Source: MIT Sloan Management Review

About the Author

Jay Friedlander is the Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business at College of the Atlantic and a senior fellow in Social Innovation at Babson College. A frequent speaker on the abundance cycle and sustainable innovation, he can be reached at

MIT Sloan ReviewMIT Sloan Management Review leads the discourse among academic researchers, business executives and other influential thought leaders about advances in management practice, particularly those shaped by technology, that are transforming how people lead and innovate. MIT SMR disseminates new management research and innovative ideas so that thoughtful executives can capitalize on the opportunities generated by rapid organizational, technological and societal change.