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3.6 Enterprises and New Forms of Partnership

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e. g. social enterprises, and where a wide variety of social participants are creating new production systems and unforeseen methods of creating revenue6. The ability to envisage new productive methods to create revenue involving different parties and combining social innovations with technological and economical innovations; all this could be the field in which companies could, auspiciously, become agents for sustainability. The practical and operational definition of this field is outlined by two complementary strategies discussed in the first chapter and by their application in stages most agreeable to companies: eco-efficient system research and the development of new solutions provide an instrument to confront, with a sustainable approach, some important problems emerging in contemporary society.

3.6.3 Eco-efficient Businesses As shown in the first chapter, the transition towards environmental sustainability can be described in technical terms as a process of de-materialisation of productive–consumptive processes: reducing the maximum amount of energetic and material resources needed for any given result. Or rather, for higher environmental sustainability it is necessary to increase the eco-efficiency of productive systems, disconnecting the value curve from natural resource consumption. This general indication has been historically transposed to companies in a rather immediate way: it was necessary to re-organise the operational stages of their respective products in an ecologically efficient way. Whether it was a fridge, a car, a computer, a bottle of milk or water, under discussion was the maximal reduction of natural resource (energy or material) consumption that occurred during the production or utilisation stages. In the recent past, much has been done in the field of product eco-efficiency and, as was written in the second chapter, the appliances of today are a lot more eco-efficient than those of 20–30 years ago. What concerns single products is that it can be claimed that a rather effective disconnection between the value generated and the natural resources consumed has taken place. But we have also observed that this strategy has fast shown its limits. Even if the ecological footprint of single products has been greatly reduced, resource consumption by industrial countries as a whole has continued to increase. This has happened because the growth of the overall quantity on the market has been greater than the growth of individual eco-efficiency (per unit produced). In short, the goods are a lot more efficient, but there are a lot more products than before. From the first series of experience it has been concluded that product ecoefficiency is necessary, but not sufficient, to reach sustainability. 6

Cf. social innovation initiatives where companies act as “process moderators”, where they support with the technological, information and organisational resources, but not with finalised products; cf. Manzini et al. (2003).

Design for Environmental Sustainability  

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