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All too often we forget that culture matters in business, particular sustainable business.  India is a country that is “no stranger to such misguided efforts”.  An article in Fast Company tells the tale of what India can teach us about sustainable business (http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679985/what-india-can-teach-us-about-sustainable-business).

“Outsiders have been coming to India with a view towards cultural imposition for centuries. India endures, but no one really wins. Indian companies know better. They understand the local context, and so they can swim with the current, leveraging the cultural ecosystem to enormous mutual benefit. In nature, cooperation is more prevalent than domination, but it’s usually implicit. You have to listen for it.”

Foreign companies (with economic clout) in a new country or market often “unwittingly introduce unsustainable practices into a traditionally self-reliant culture, and the unintended consequences [are] culturally, ecologically, and economically destructive”. This is the case for what has happened in India.

The key message: know the system and know how to work with it (not against it). The article has some great examples of local companies that have taken advantage of their local and cultural knowledge to integrate their businesses in a sustainable manner. It is easy to see how this can be particularly relevant for sustainability-focused businesses, which tend to have non-traditional business models. Cultural facets can pose threats to otherwise viable business models but they can also provide opportunities for companies to add value to products and services. By tapping into the “in-built systems for sustainability” that can be found in the community, outsiders (and some insiders) can reduce risks, find hidden efficiencies, find local partners and create their unique story.