REVERSING MATERIALITY: From a Reactive Matrix to a Proactive SDG Agenda
Sustainability-oriented innovation strategies are often based on assessments of what is ‘material’ for companies in the short run. Materiality assessments are increasingly used as the basis for sustainability strategies. Extant practice, however, often leads to reactive approaches that might be less innovative than required for the sustainability issue at stake and even lead to window dressing (‘talk but not walk’). Leading companies can fall prey to the ‘incumbent’s curse’—the failure to adequately adapt to changed circumstances. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides an alternative frame for materiality assessments that has the potential to overcome the curse. Consequently, the corporate challenge becomes how to make the SDGs (more) material for the corporate innovation strategy. This paper makes the argument for ‘reversing materiality’ through the adoption of the SDGs—as a proactive way to escape the incumbent’s curse. Examples of emerging practices of leading companies are given.
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