From manufacturing advances to technology breakthroughs, businesses have long been using prototyping as a way to speed up their product development process. By creating a physical mock-up or employing a digital twin, businesses can test out their ideas and integrate early feedback from users before investing in a final product. But what about using prototyping tools to deliver goal-oriented projects? Can this approach be used to achieve quicker results in the area of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)? The answer is yes! In this blog post, we will discuss what prototyping for impact is, why it is employed by businesses to drive organizational redesign responsibly, and how it can be augmented to produce impact-oriented outcomes.

So, let's get started!

What is Prototyping for Impact?

Prototyping – as a way to build operational scenarios, validate assumptions and redefine the challenges and opportunities that adopting impact targets entails – can help sustain the learning curve of organizations that are introducing new metrics to assess their sustainability progress.  It does require identifying, upfront, all interest groups that are directly affected by the environmental and social goals set by a business.

By developing a habit to prototype with sustainability objectives in mind – to design, test and integrate them in the operating model of a business – it naturally results in weaving sustainability commitments into the very fabric of an organization.

Sustainability targets are increasingly science-based, and there is broad agreement that impact needs to be monitored and measured both within and outside the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, certainly way beyond the measurement of progress towards a baseline year.

When organizations apply a prototyping mindset to their operational and product footprint, it can provide a way to look into the future.

How can Prototyping be Augmented to Reach Sustainability Goals Faster?

Impact-centric prototyping can be augmented to produce faster ESG goal-oriented results in two ways: first, by experimenting with the range of environmental and social externalities that a business is generating; and second, by involving all interest groups in an active dialogue that with time and technology can encompass an entire supply chain network.

Many businesses already have products and services that can be leveraged to achieve their near-term sustainability goals. For example, banking institutions are increasingly rolling out a wide range of financial services that promote more equitable economic growth and access. Retailers are investing in new product portfolios that can be used to educate consumers on biodiversity challenges. And, technology companies continue to experiment with data platforms that promise to fast-track environmental conservation through AI.  

Ultimately, impact-centric prototyping makes it possible to design solutions that identify and address areas of a business most likely to pose “competing commitments.” These are usually areas where financial stakes are at odds with an organization’s responsibility for the non-financial externalities it produces. For example, when controversial business activities are detected, a prototyping mindset for positive societal change would encourage the analysis of the business value created by addressing controversies through the lens of multiple stakeholders and apply a premium to transparent decision-making.

The Most Valuable Lessons to Learn from Prototyping for Impact

There are a handful of valuable lessons that can be learned from prototyping for impact:

  • It is a journey that sustains learning at a pace that all parties involved can benefit from
  • It enables every business to design with societal vulnerabilities in mind beyond new product development
  • It iterates for positive change while leaving any operational barriers aside.

When organizations start with their existing products and services, and involve customers and other stakeholders in the solution design stage, they can speed up the process of achieving their sustainability goals.

If you’re considering experimenting with prototyping techniques, you can read about  how the transition economy relies on businesses to embrace this exercise in The Impact Challenge online, here. Don’t forget that all author royalties benefit the Global Association for Research Methods and Data Science and help advance real-time collaboration between academics and practitioners through open data platforms.

About the Author

ALESSIA FALSARONE, SASB FSA, is a sustainable finance expert and a fellow of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program. Her work bridges the gap between sustainability, financial innovation and risk management. A sought-after commentator for media outlets and contributor to academic programs, Ms. Falsarone is a member of high-level advisory groups that promote environmental and climate finance, including the G20 Environmental Ministerial, the London Stock Exchange, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (Value Reporting Foundation) and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. In recognition of her innovative vision for business and society, she has received an Honoree Award from the Women’s Venture Fund and the 2021 Global Leadership Award by the SheInspires Foundation in the UK.

She is an alumna of Stanford University, the MIT Sloan School of Business and Bocconi University. Ms. Falsarone holds certified director status with the National Association of Corporate Directors. An avid advocate of sustainability in business education, she has contributed to educational initiatives on the topic at the Asian University for Women, the Society of Corporate Compliance, the Swiss Sustainable Finance Initiative, the United Nations, the World Bank, Stanford University and University of Chicago, including delivering training on climate risk and green finance in Asia Pacific and Latin America.

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