The adoption of sustainable-development for responding to the exigencies of our time warrants a major rethink in all sectors of an economy.  Other than science and technology, even services and non-technical sectors would have to revamp their activities to minimize their carbon footprint.  In fact, the urgent urge to adopt sustainability has currently stoked a race among rich and developing countries to innovate their way out of these crises.  For these nations, sustainability translates to innovating alternative energy sources; green technologies; green services and even activities such as green finance, to name a few.   In this regard, witness the intense efforts of the member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to monitor innovations and also quantify their creative output as they toil to sustainably combat planetary crises through widespread innovations.

In contrast to rich nations innovating “systematically” in environments conducive to human ingenuity with good institutions, rule-of-law and infrastructure, countries of the developing world have pioneered innovating under frugal conditions thereby creating frugal-innovations.  These innovations, whose concept mainly originated among the poor in India, are currently all the rage in rich and emerging economies.  True to their humble beginnings in India, where many entrepreneurs are constrained to be minimalists working with bare essentials, frugal-innovations result in no-frills products and services.   Subsequently, the power of these innovations have been harnessed by multinational companies such as GE and Tata Sons for producing low-cost products such as hand held electro-cardiograms and cheap cars in emerging markets and some of them have been later adopted in the west.  An increasing number of companies and businesses worldwide are taking in frugal-innovations to profit against foreseeable stringent government regulations pertaining to climate-change.  Concomitantly, such companies are also aiming to profit from the growing ranks of people affected by the recent financial crises in the US and Europe through frugal or low-cost products and services.  The very act of innovating low-cost products and services under conditions of scarcity engenders thrift and austerity thereby drawing lesser resources from our ecosystems.  Consequently, frugal-innovations are also imparting thrift to products up the value chain.  Frugal-innovations hold the key to improving the living standards for the denizens of this planet while minimizing impact on the environment.  They are bound to form a crucial pillar to sustainable-development slowly but surely.  Therefore, in keeping with the goal of minimal impact on environment through sustainable-development, the United Nations and other germane bodies should encourage the widespread use of frugal-innovations and also root for the positive effects of globalization.      

A stakeholder critical to the mitigation efforts of our planet are the poor and low-income consumers who depend on the numerous ecosystems for their well being and survival.  The provision of sustainable goods and services to the destitute and consumers at the bottom of the pyramid—who comprise a significant chunk of the global population—by businesses will aid in the prevention of most of the wanton destruction of our ecosystems. Accordingly, since the poor were the originators of frugal-innovations, their involvement with this phenomenon should be maintained and even improved.  Other than benefiting the poor and, hence the environment, this arrangement will also benefit the rest of the world with low-cost sustainable products and services.  Besides, the on-going process of globalization should be utilized to buttress the worldwide dissemination of frugal-innovations and their benefits.  By facilitating the spread of frugal-innovations around the world globalization could be reckoned to be a positive force in the fight against poverty.  Although, income-wise, globalization has uplifted millions in the emerging markets, this teaming with frugal-innovations would effectively make globalization a tool assisting both sustainable-development and the fight against poverty. 

Even though sustainable-development and its paraphernalia such as frugal-innovations hold promise for the future, the denizens of planet earth hold the final piece in this jigsaw puzzle.  Eventually, it is the people inhabiting this planet who need to have a sustainable attitude whereby they adopt a frugal lifestyle that is at odds with the higher living standards aspired to by the multitudes today.  Frugality in both innovations and our way of living is the sustainable bullet that could lessen the inevitable impact from planetary crises in the centuries to come. 

More details about frugal-innovations could be found in my recent publication:

"How disruptive is frugal?" Technology in Society, volume: 35(1), February 2013, pp. 65–73..

[PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Costin (CC).]

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Tags: development, environment, innovation, sustainability, technology


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