Title: The paradox at the base of the pyramid: environmental sustainability and market-based poverty alleviation

Authors: Denis G. Arnold; Laura H.D. Williams

Addresses: Department of Management, Belk College of Business, UNC Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA. ' UNC Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, Reese 011C, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA

Abstract: Base of the pyramid (BoP) business strategies focus on the delivery of goods and services to the world's poor. Proponents argue that previously unrecognised opportunities for profit are available to companies that target this underserved population. This strategy is commonly presented as an example of social responsibility, or social sustainability, since it targets consumers that have not traditionally had access to consumer goods and services. However, business activities can have a disproportionately harmful impact on the natural environments in which the BoP live and work. We argue that businesses engaged in BoP activities with the ostensible goal of benefitting the BoP may paradoxically harm the BoP by degrading the natural environments on which they are dependent. We provide a conceptual framework for understanding the environmental impacts that firm products, services, and operations can have on the BoP, and we provide a pragmatic solution aimed at resolving this apparent paradox.

Keywords: base of the pyramid; BoP; bottom of the pyramid; socio-economic groups; environmental sustainability; ecological sustainability; social sustainability; social responsibility; international business; management ethics; market-based poverty alleviation; business strategies; poor people; unrecognised opportunities; profits; underserved populations; consumers; consumer goods; consumer services; disproportionate impacts; harmful impacts; natural environments; environmental degradation; environmental impacts; technology management; environment; sustainability; sustainable development.

DOI: 10.1504/IJTM.2012.049105

International Journal of Technology Management, 2012 Vol.60 No.1/2, pp.44 - 59

Published online: 06 Apr 2013 *

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