Strategies for sustainability are often counter-intuitive: No is really yes, up is really down. This is true for companies and countries alike. Over the past five years, for example, I have been working extensively in both China and India. The contrasts could not be more stark:
China: Five year plans, massive investment, rapid industrialization, infrastructure development, new town planning, national highway system, high-speed rail, new airports.
India: Messy democracy, corruption, mass migration to cities, chaotic slums and shantytowns, poor infrastructure, inadequate roads, antiquated rail system.
Many point to China as the model, with its gleaming skyscrapers, maglev trains, freshly paved highways, and massive new towns. But will they regret it in a decade when the full impact of Peak Oil hits? Will many of these investments, so dependent on increasing consumption of fossil fuels, become like giant albatrosses?
It hit me on my most recent trip to India, where I am involved in founding a new Indian Institute for Sustainable Enterprise in Bangalore, that India's apparent ineptitude may turn out to be its "silver lining." With 600,000 villages, 700 million plus rural farmers, burgeoning slums, inadequate infrastructure, and a culture of transparency and entrepreneurship, India still has a chance to steer the country in a different direction.
India can draw upon all of its ancient knowledge and traditions while at the same time applying the best of the emerging clean and sustainable technologies to "leapfrog" to what comes next:
- new urbanism
- mass transit
- sustainable agriculture
- distributed generation
- renewable energy
- bottom-up entrepreneurship
- IT-enabled development
- inclusive wealth creation
India can take a "green leap" into future precisely because it has not used up all its seed corn on the "Old Way."
As we all know, the transformation to sustainability is the biggest business challenge--and opportunity--in the history of capitalism.