Environmental convergence

Integrating environmental and social challenges in inclusive business

Story highlights

More than just rhetoric or "marketing", the inclusive business movement must affirm its commitment to addressing environmental challenges

If we fall short, we risk exacerbating the cycle of environmental degradation and entrenched poverty that we have long seen around the world

Government, entrepreneurs, and impact investors all have a critical role to play in making a transition that will be nothing short of revolutionary

Taking the "green leap" - a new business vision that integrates environmental and social challenges - will require entrepreneurs to focus their efforts on disruptive innovation at the base of the pyramid


Reflecting on his once bountiful childhood village in Zimbabwe, with its rivers and forest lands now degraded, UN Environment director Maxwell Gomera captures what this issue is all about, “…we cannot solve the crisis of rural poverty and hunger,” he explains, “without also solving the crisis of nature.” And indeed, there is a crisis of nature. As Professor Stuart Hart, Editorial Committee member and the author of this issue’s editorial describes it, “We have overshot the carrying capacity of the planet and serious repercussions are now inevitable.”

In fact, there is a whole day dedicated to building awareness about this very phenomenon, similarly depicted in the Planetary Boundaries Model (see model), which was developed by Johan Rockström et al.

Planetary Boundaries

Source: Steffen et. al. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 16 January 2015. Design: Globaïa

Allison Robertshaw of Green Acceleration Partners is unapologetic about what’s at stake. Not only does climate change threaten to undo decades of progress and countless dollars of investment in global health and poverty reduction, but inaction will disproportionately impact those who are most vulnerable. Speaking to both impact investors and entrepreneurs, she explains that a “social mission,” does not offer a free pass on addressing “the existential threat of our time.”

People collecting waste

Social investment needs to be accompanied by climate resilience and environmental sustainability. Photo Credit: © GIZ/Markus Kirchgessner

As UNDP’s Sahba Sobhani explains, taking a holistic approach that considers the “nexus of environment and poverty” isn’t about just rolling out a single product: it is about developing business models that serve markets that, until now, have been entirely “missing.” Hart and his colleague, Fernando Casado, have a name for this. They advocate for a “green leap,” a new, integrated business vision that focuses on the markets at the base of the pyramid (BoP) as the critical space for disruptive innovation that will address environmental challenges. Those business models that prove successful can then trickle up to markets at the top of the pyramid. What they call for is nothing short of revolutionary, but lucky for us, Casado provides us with the six business transitions that must be reimagined, and tools for entrepreneurs to do that work—a sneak peek of their new co-authored book that will be released early next year.

The contributors in this issue fall into one of two primary categories—those who are calling for climate resiliency to be built into inclusive business models, and further, for inclusive business to address environmental challenges at the BoP—and those who are answering the call. But of course, social entrepreneurs cannot be expected to do this critical work alone. They need fertile ground on which to operate: one where government “more proactively provide[s] an enabling environment, by having the right policies [in place],” as Frank Rijsberman of the Global Green Growth Institute puts it.  

Investors have a role to play, too, providing financing and using their power to influence policy. Wonhee Kim and Anna Kang of MYSC, an impact investing and accelerator firm in South Korea, admit that environmental-lens impacting investing is “nascent” in their region, but that MYSC is committed to focusing on the environment, both within their company and within the portfolio of social entrepreneurs they support. Their firm’s journey of bringing the environment into focus in their work is as inspiring—and meaningful—as the entrepreneurs we hear from in this issue.


A lecture on the Higg Index, an indicator to quantify the environmental impact of products through a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). It stimulated thinking about what entrepreneurs could do together to strengthen sustainability throughout the fashion industry. Photo Credit: MYSC

Who are the entrepreneurs responding to the call?

You’ll hear from Taylor Quinn, Emerging Markets Director for JUST, a company that is doing nothing less than reinventing our food systems (by the way, have you heard about the mung bean “egg” that scrambles like an egg, looks like an egg, and tastes like an egg?). “When you start from zero,” Quinn says, “you have to take into account the environment at the core of what you are doing.” He argues that the private sector should focus on innovation, not trying to change behaviour. “A Liberian grandmother,” Quinn suggests, “should know exactly what our product is…and [s]he should be able to cook it exactly the same way she has been cooking food for the last sixty, seventy years.”

agriculture growth hand pexels

Focus on innovation: Most of the world´s plants have never been examined for their potential application in mainstream food systems. Photo Credit: Pexels

Meanwhile in Brazil, Claudia Pires, Founder of So+ma (pronounced so plus ma) is focused on changing consumer behaviour to tackle environmental issues ranging from recycling to food waste. Working in three communities, she and her team have innovated a programme that not only encourages participants to reduce their environmental footprints, but in doing so, provides them with financial savings—and therefore greater opportunities—to transform their own lives.

Sayali Marawar, of Drishtee, and Mariska van Gaalen of Endeva, share their initiatives, Gaharunda and Full Circle Filament, which focus on the rural housing shortage in India and addressing the plastic waste crisis in Thailand respectively. Both models respond to the call for an integrated business vision that Hart proposes is necessary in the next evolution of inclusive business, and if successful, both would need continued support to be scaled to maximise their impact.

Plastic waste

Plastic pollution has become one of the major environmental challenges humanity is facing. Full Circle Filament is one example of an environmentally sustainable and inclusive business solution. Photo Credit: Endeva

Rural Housing India

Gaharunda addresses the rural housing shortage in India. Photo Credit: Indian Housing Federation

Last, enter Jack Sim, the social entrepreneur and thought leader who advocates for the creation of inclusive business ecosystems, within which successful models can be shared and scaled to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals collaboratively. In the first iteration of “Ask Jack,” a new companion podcast series, published with each issue of the online magazine, Sim offers words to motivate and encourage entrepreneurs who are eager to respond to this issue’s call to action.


Next steps for entrepreneurs
Practical tools for businesses

There are tools available to entrepreneurs to help you translate these insights into action. Please see below, and if you have ideas for additional resources, please let us know by contacting us at info@ib-an.net.

Greenpreneurs Competition

This programme supports young entrepreneurs with ideas for sustainable green business solutions in different areas, such as sustainable energy, water and sanitation; sustainable landscapes (forestry and agriculture); and green city development.

Book: The Green Leap to an Inclusive Economy

The Green Leap to an Inclusive Economy Cover






B Impact Assessment

This tool helps entrepreneurs to evaluate their companies' social and environmental impact.

Cookbook for Sustainability Innovation: Recipes for Co-Creation Sustainability in Business Research Group, Aalto School of Business, Finland.

The Global Footprint Network´s personal footprint calculator

Personal Ecological Footprint Global Footprint Network

Based on different dimensions and consumption categories, the Global Footprint Network´s personal footprint calculator allows you to get to know more about your personal ecological footprint.

Dana Gulley
Dana joined iBAN as the Editor-in-Chief of its online magazine, CLUED-iN, in July 2018. She is the founder and lead consultant at Third Peak Solutions, a firm that advises businesses and nonprofits on developing innovative strategies to solve our world’s most pressing challenges. A trained mediator with a background in natural resources and business administration, Dana has spent her career building cross-sector partnerships to tackle both energy and water issues.


A message to entrepreneurs: this is about missing entire markets, not just marketing opportunities

Sahba Sobhani believes that the work at the “nexus of poverty and the environment,” must be connected to the Sustainable Development Goals—and that it goes far beyond permitting mechanisms like carbon credits.
Table of contents

graphic summary


A visual summary of the key challenges entrepreneurs need to consider when it comes to integrating environmental and social challenges at the base of the pyramid. Learn more about these aspects by reading this third edition of the newly…



Professor Stuart Hart warns that even “aggressive” inclusive business initiatives cannot save us from having overshot the planet’s carrying capacity, unless we envision—and act on—a more integrated approach to tackling our world’s challenges. Hart calls on social entrepreneurs and big businesses alike to take the so-called “green leap,” by developing—and commercializing—innovative, disruptive, and “clean” technologies in new markets, at the base of the pyramid.

Stuart Hart

feature story

A dangerous disconnect: Inclusive Business without environmental sustainability at its core

This issue of the Inclusive Business Online Magazine CLUED-iN brings us from Liberia and Zimbabwe to Thailand, Korea, India, and Brazil—to focus on one of the fundamental, yet sometimes forgotten underpinnings of inclusive business: the environment. The edition features contributors who are calling for a greater focus on the environment and entrepreneurs who are answering that call.

Dana Gulley

A message to entrepreneurs: this is about missing entire markets, not just marketing opportunities

Sahba Sobhani believes that the work at the “nexus of poverty and the environment,” must be connected to the Sustainable Development Goals—and that it goes far beyond permitting mechanisms like carbon credits.

Green growth: necessary, affordable, and teeming with jobs

Frank Rijsberman of Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) believes there is reason to be optimistic about the future. Working with some sixty governments worldwide, he sees plenty of examples of those that are creating enabling environments for green, inclusive businesses to thrive.

Supporting nature is key to improving the "GDP of the Poor"

Gomera takes us to his childhood village in Zimbabwe—once bountiful—where poverty has led to extreme environmental degradation and now, “entrenched poverty.” He uses Mhondoro to tell a cautionary tale and to make an argument in support of “GDP of the poor,” a new accounting method that takes into account biodiversity and ecosystem services.

What impact? Without a focus on climate resilience, decades of social investment could be undone

Robertshaw makes the argument that social entrepreneurs must consider climate risk in their business planning and develop businesses to combat climate change. She also calls on impact investors to step up.

Korea-based company works to develop nascent ecosystem of "environmental-lens impact investing"

MYSC has taken notice of the growing environmental public and politically sentiment in Korea. As an impact investor and sustainable business, MYSC is committed to reflecting and expanding this sentiment in the private sector.

Food production systems that work, are inherently inclusive and sustainable

JUST is reimagining food systems, and Emerging Markets Director, Taylor Quinn, shares the four principles of a food system that works. As he explains, when you build a system from scratch, you must account for the environment as a cost of operation, “at the core of what you are doing.”

Inclusive circular businesses have a critical role to play in combatting plastic pollution

Using an inclusive and circular approach, Full Circle Filament is dedicated to not only reducing plastic pollution and improving the wages for the trash pickers, but also to innovating new 3-D printed products at the base of the pyramid.

Environmental sustainability and youth employment must be integrated to address rural housing crisis in India

A scaled version of Drishtee’s Gharaunda pilot initiative will create jobs in sustainable construction with the use of locally-sourced building materials. With high levels of youth unemployment, a scaled version of the programme will create jobs in sustainable construction with the use of locally-sourced building materials.

Give a "nudge" and they go a mile: how so+ma is encouraging environmentally-friendly consumer behaviour in Brazil, and offering life-changing opportunities in return

So+ma is tackling the SDGs by changing consumer behaviour. By partnering with companies to offer valuable opportunities to low-income programme participants in Brazil, families have diverted 91,000 kg of waste to recycling and trash pickers have been able to improve their efficiency by 30 per cent.

Six transitions for entrepreneurs to take the "Green Leap" to an inclusive economy

Echoing the sentiment found in Professor Stuart Hart’s editorial, Casado provides the critical “how to guide” for entrepreneurs to take the ‘green leap’. Casado argues that for an economy to be green, it must also be socially inclusive.

Ask Jack

In this insightful podcast series, Jack Sim answers questions from readers of the Inclusive Business Online Magazine CLUED-iN. This month, he voices his thoughts around the topic of environmental innovation for the base of the pyramid.