Berkeley Innovation Forum: Top corporate honchos have ideas for restoring the ecological balance of the planet

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Ritu Jha-

The Earth is coming to a tipping point of no return to maintaining a healthy balance to support human life as we know it. If all the knowledge and technology we have generated are utterly useless if they cannot save us from future catastrophes of our deteriorating earth, says Professor Solomon Darwin.

During an interview with indica On the sidelines of the recent Berkeley Innovation Forum, business leaders came up with great ideas for restoring the Earth’s balance sheet, inspired by his recent book How to Think Like The CEO of The Planet – Restoring the Declining Balance Sheet of the Earth.

Darwin is executive director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation and former executive director of the Center for Financial Reporting and Management at the Haas School of Business. Before joining UC Berkeley, he was an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California from 1996 to 2005. Darwin has over 13 years of industry experience at Bank of America and Motorola.

The Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation’s Berkeley Innovation Forum was held October 11-14, 2022. The forum attracted leading companies from around the world focused on “Creating Sustainable Ecosystems through Open Innovation”.

Global CEOs and top executives from some of the world’s most influential companies considered ways and means to combat climate change through the use of innovation and technology. They discussed ways to take the quantum leap from promise to action and to making a tangible impact. The Smithsonian-affiliated Aquarium of the Bay hosted the first session, and the final session of the event was held at another Bay Ecotarium branch, the Bay Model in Sausalito.

The Berkeley Innovation Forum is a membership organization founded by Dr. Henry Chesbrough, Faculty Director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation. Professor Chesbrough has become a world authority on open innovation, a term credited to him. BIF is an exclusive membership group composed of carefully selected business leaders from non-competing firms who are deeply involved in managing innovation within their organization.

The forum provides its members with a constant window into innovation challenges facing companies around the world and brings members together to share their experiences in tackling these challenges.

Prof Darwin said, “This flagship program in Berkley brings together senior executives from elite companies in Silicon Valley and around the world to innovate and share ideas in a cohesive environment. They meet to talk about the challenges they face and find solutions to expand their markets. At these gatherings, companies innovate and co-innovate, create ecosystems and partnerships, and even collaborate with competitors to expand markets and create value for consumers around the world who are looking for diverse solutions.”

This October 2022 forum focused on sustainability. “It was about how we can create a more sustainable planet with all the knowledge, technology and resources that we have. We’ve come up with great ideas and good ways we can work together as a company to restore balance to the planet. The earth has assets that are deteriorating and declining, and it can no longer sustain life. We’re coming to a tipping point where that makes a big difference. The knowledge we invent in this world, or the technology we invent, if it is not used to plug the ever-widening hole in an already sinking boat, it is not good, it is useless,” said Prof Darwin .

The welcome address to this closed-door event was delivered by Rich Lyons, UC Berkeley’s Chief Innovation & Entrepreneurship Officer. From 2008 to 2018 he was Dean of the Haas School at UC Berkeley, where he currently holds the William and Janet Cronk Chair in Innovative Leadership. Afterwards Prof. Darwin took over the introduction of the event for the participants.

The keynote address was given by the CEO of Tata Chemicals – R. Mukundan. He is an Engineer from IIT Roorkee and joined TAS after completing an MBA from FMS, Delhi University. He is also a graduate of Harvard Business School. During his 26-year career with Tata Group, he has held various responsibilities in the Group’s chemical, automotive and hospitality sectors. “The Tata Group from India presented their initiatives brilliantly. Rescuing whales and working with communities. Tata is a great example for other companies in India,” he said.

All corporate units involved in brainstorming have agreed in principle to pool resources and work together towards the common ecological goal. “You all want to cooperate and work with our students to solve this challenge. There is a seriousness and urgency in the approach being developed to meet the challenge. They want to move from promise to action to make a difference. We cannot endure another crisis like Covid or any other catastrophe. We just have to really wake up because that’s a wake-up call,” he added.

Attendees discussed ways to reduce carbon emissions, what companies can do to help, how to grow more trees and hold people more accountable, and how technologies like Google Earth can track every tree on the planet. He said, “How do we use technology to create awareness so people can act locally and globally.”

Prof Darwin acknowledged that the focus on climate came more recently. “This is the first Berkeley Innovation Forum dedicated to this topic. Innovation has always been about how to make more money. But this time, the Berkeley Innovation Forum wasn’t about how to make money, it was about how companies must make sacrifices to stop the ecological bleed. We may be the richest people in the world, but if the boat we’re on sinks, what’s the use?

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