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Smart Phones & Broad Band Equals Sustainability?


Smart phone makers and broadband suppliers are going to love this article. All other companies, well, this article is about leveling the playing field for more and better sustainability. Please read on.

Every household on this planet should have a premium smartphone.

Every household on this planet should have free access to broadband Internet.

Each and every company on this planet should, by law, be required to have a third-party verified GRI report and mandatory sustainability labels.

(I also believe ardently in the power of brand, so much so that I believe all advertising should be banned. More on this at a future date.)

Why? The free market economy needs both freedom of speech and access to credible sustainability information if it is to overcome structurally inherent sustainability challenges.

For better or for worse, capitalism is what we have to work with, and there’s little time left before irreversible ecological damage is done to our home Earth as we try to sustainably feed, house, clothe and reproduce our seven billion member family.

More radical change may be desirable but it’s hardly likely.

There is a way, however, to develop sustainable free market economies: through demand. Connecting deeply held personal and inherently sustainable values – good and secure employment opportunities, healthy communities, spiritual, educational and cultural freedom, and vibrant natural environments, etc. – to the marketplace will trigger the innovative and adaptive creative might of capitalism.

Freedom of speech must be vigorously defended, for without it how can we signal the market our sustainability desires: it is a first principle of sustainability.

For if we cannot signal our desires, the market cannot respond, and then there is no competitive advantage to be had for being sustainable.

That’s where cell phones, broad band, the GRI and sustainability labels come in.

Armed with the informational tools and ability to make our personal voices heard, we, the consumer, can connect our values to the market. And while many things unsustainable can be said about the Internet, it is an immediately available and proven tool for powerful communications between people and the marketplace. Indeed, there are all types of competing rating and product analytic websites/tools already available on the Internet. Image the force if everyone on the planet could take advantage of these. For a good overview see the Sustainability Consortium’s research (

These services are critical, for there is no point in freedom of speech if consumers cannot credibly judge the sustainability of economic information (e.g., company advertising without access to fair and unbiased information about products and services).

Hungry for Information
And consumers are savvy and information hungry, particularly in the growing middle class in emerging countries where most of this century’s growth will come from. A recent McKinsey study reported Chinese consumers, for example, took five or six trips to a store to research options before making a major purchase. They also relied extensively on mouth-to-mouth recommendations.

My own experience in developing markets shows a deep hunger for market information. In the most remote Africans villages, for example, farmers use cell phone commodity price quoting services to time product sales for maximum income. Islanders in the South Pacific use cell phones to do comparative shopping prior to making the long and expensive voyage/commitment to purchase household necessities.

Pretty much anybody can use and will use a cell phone for market information. Cell phones linked to GRI reports and simple sustainability labels for all products provide a viable path to linking sustainability values to the market place. Take Timberland’s on line Timberguide which walks you through the technical and environmental characteristics of its products, and lets consumer be the judge. (see

Access to credible sustainability defining product and corporate information must be diligently developed and widely distributed, and marketing omissions, lies, and half-truthsmust be vigorously defended against: this is also a sustainability market first principle.

Unfortunately, a recent report by Tomiahonen Phonebook cited by Business Insider ( reports that only 11% of the world’s mobile phone owners have premium smart phone connectivity. And there are only 1.1 billion mobile broadband subscriptions globally in 2011, of which 701 million are in developed countries and 484 in developing countries. (Source: International Telecommunication Union, November 2011,

It’s all about the Information & Communication
Whle there is obviously some ways to go before all are connected in a meaningful way,  just imagine how empowering cell phone broad band access, a smart phone, the GRI, and sustainability labeling together would be as a means to communicate our deepest personal sustainability values to the marketplace.

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