3 Must-Have Apps for a Sustainable 2012

3 Must-Have Apps for a Sustainable 2012

2012 is not going to be easy. Against a backdrop of economic stagnation in the west, civil society unrest in all sorts of places, and continued volatility in commodity markets, the going will be tough for business. It's also possible that progress towards sustainability might falter.

But not if you download these apps, designed to do two things: Help any forward-thinking sustainability practitioner respond positively to three key trends for 2012, which in turn will help navigate the likely turbulence of the next 12 months.

App 1: the "How to (Begin to) Rethink Capitalism" App

2012 will see increasing numbers of business leaders question whether the current form of capitalism is fit for purpose. Back in 2008 at the beginning of the current economic crisis hitting the U.S., U.K. and Europe, the response was tactical, with policy-makers and business leaders crossing their fingers, hoping that the glory days of high GDP growth would return soon. We now know that Europe and the U.K., and maybe the U.S., face a decade of austerity, and there are no short-term fixes.

Paul Polman, CEO at Unilever, has publicly said he wants an "equitable, sustainable capitalism." Even the Harvard Business Review has called on CEOs to "fix the system."

And there is of course the Occupy movement. Not anti-capitalist as such, just anti-this-current-version -- which only works for the minority (probably even less than 1 percent).

This app will help you begin to think about how your business, big or small, could play its role in creating a different, more useful form of capitalism. Enter the notion of sustainable capitalism -- where we factor in environmental assets, and recognise their true value.

Without natural resources and a stable climate, it's hard to see how any form of capitalism will work into the future. Unfortunately, there isn't a spare planet knocking about on to which the human species can decamp.

On a macro-economic scale, by placing a value on environmental assets, from bees to rainforests, it becomes easier to design financial instruments to protect them (think forest-backed bonds). Similarly, by measuring success in terms of market share, profitability and social impact, investment decisions can be made to deliver outcomes that work both commercially and in terms of improving people's quality of life.

At the level of an individual business, understanding the true value of the natural resources on which you undoubtedly rely, and working to reduce these input costs, will mean that when the cost of these resources soars in response to rising demand and declining availability, the business has inbuilt resilience.

Similarly, by understanding both the true social cost of getting your goods and services to market, as well as their social value, when transparency trends and rising labour costs in developing economies hit your business, again, the business is not blown off course.

The first question this app asks is, "what happens to your business in the event of the end of free nature and free labor?" Starting to think about your answer to this question in 2012 would be a wise thing to do.

App 2: the "How to Get Serious About Collaborative Consumption" App

Collaborative consumption, the term used to describe the rapid explosion in swapping and renting goods and services, often through peer-to-peer (P2P) businesses, will break through in 2012. An example of a business in the collaborative consumption space is AirBnB, a website where you can rent out your spare room. It started in 2008 and now has rooms in 19,000 cities in 192 countries. That sort of rapid geographical penetration is the kind of success most hotel chains can only dream of.

Collaborative consumption could mainstream in 2012 for two reasons; first, economic austerity will force people to cut costs, and look for cheaper ways of accessing goods and services; and second, the ongoing digital revolution will increase people's ability to access these new P2P business models.

This app will help you understand how you could rethink delivery of your own business's goods and services, using P2P models, and in so doing, avoiding being locked in to market delivery mechanisms (such as an out-of-town retail outlet), which could soon become redundant. And it will also help you understand how to maximise the social value of your product or service. The best thing about collaborative consumption is that it gives people what they need. Imagine that.

App 3: the "Taking Sustainability to Consumers" App

2012 will see the practice of taking sustainability to consumers, rather than waiting for them to demand it, mainstream. Pioneering companies such as M&S and Unilever are already saying they will try to shift what people buy and how they use their products in the home. Going further is the clothing brand, Patagonia, which raised eyebrows with its Thanksgiving advert in the New York Times telling readers "Don't Buy this Jacket."

The realization that it is possible to drive brand loyalty through sustainability issues, and that it will be increasingly impossible to be credible on sustainability issues without addressing the use phase (up to 80 percent of a product's impact), will mean that many more brands will take sustainability to their consumers.

But how? This app will take you through some do's and don'ts:

• Do wrap sustainability into the brand DNA. Sustainability has to be part of the brand essence, otherwise it appears as an add-on, and won't be viewed as authentic;

• Don't talk about sustainability first. Make the primary message the one that you know your consumer really cares about. So, it's nutritious -- and sustainable, it's well designed -- and sustainable, it has the right price point -- and is sustainable.

• Do feedback. Make sure your customers know that their actions count. Tell them how their purchasing decisions can both save them money -- and make a positive difference to others.

Sadly, these apps aren't quite ready. But don't let that stop you. The three trends are very real and how to respond is based on our current reality. Use your imagination, be bold, be creative -- and 2012 might well see progress towards sustainability accelerate.

Crystal Ball photo via Shutterstock.