Low price = good?

There is more and more writing about the need for a change in lifestyle and business strategy, e.g. here or here. Yet, we still seem to be addicted to accumulating material wealth:

It’s not just cheap oil we’re addicted to: it’s cheap everything. And the world we’re entering isn’t really of Peak Oil as it is one of Peak Consumption.

via America’s Addiction and the
New Economics of Strategy – Umair Haque

A new book by Anthony Giddens, applies a well known paradox to the climate change debate and the slow progress we make in solving the mess: that people do not act on an incrementally growing threat until it becomes visible, by which stage action may be too late.

So if most people still think that the lower the price, the better, how do we get them to see the damage that does and the opportunity that lies in doing thing differently?

Being sustainable: means or end?

Sustainability is not about simply becoming greener, but it is about performing a paradigm shift in the way we do business:

According to Chouinard, sustainability is “a process, not a real goal and all you can do is work towards it…that’s just the way it is.” Chouinard argues that fundamentally, businesses are responsible to their resource base, not solely to their customers, shareholders or employees. If one definition of sustainability means meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, then Chouinard’s opinion is spot on. The problem is that the concept of sustainability, like that of “going green”, needs to be more than just a short-term marketing ploy. It has to mean committing to a long-term plan that assesses a business’s impact on the Earth and aims to correct it. (via Sustainability Lesson One: There is No Such Thing)

What is our place in the food system?

Louise Fresco shares her vision for our future food system – probably closer to reality than either the fossil fuel dependent industrial or the local organic model. Just does not feel as good as the local, organic vision!

It makes sense to assume that our future food needs are met by a system that lies between those models, that we will use technology (including biotech) as much as we can within the bounds of what is healthy for us humans and the environment. And she certainly has a point, when arguing that we cannot expect poor people to continue spent all their time to meet their food needs often using nothing but their hands, when we only have to go to the supermarket after work to buy what we need thanks to mechanized agriculture.

A great quote that is also shared on the TED site: “There is no technical reason why we could not feed a world of nine billion people. Hunger is a matter of buying power, not of shortages.” –Louise Fresco, NRC Handelsblad

Get connected and build a new operating system for Earth

I am back from my trip to Washington, DC and New York with lots of follow-up work – more on that in the coming days!

For now I just want to share a quote from a Commencement Address Paul Hawken gave earlier this year. The quote speaks for itself:

At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

Found on Triple Pundit.

Good times to get companies to think about sustainability?

In short, the article Do Global Clients need Sustainability Strategy today? on Triple Pundit suggests that sustainability advocates should use the openings offered by the need for cost saving and improvments in managing risks to get companies on the sustainability train, but to not overdo it:

[W]hat are some of the key concepts to consider when developing and promoting sustainability solutions today?

  • Pick ‘tactical’ sustainability projects which may be an oxymoron… such as strategies for maximizing the efficiencies of existing systems, buildings, and assets.
  • You should articulate an accelerated ROI for your clients, but provide a ‘platform’ technology based or process based to allow your client to leverage incremental successes over time across his / her enterprise
  • Assessment and benchmarking: executives place a high value on validation of industry trends and insights.

Can we Reset and start afresh?

To build a truly sustainable economy and society we will have to realize a paradigm shift, breaking with some of our habits and getting rid of some of our goods.

Resetting means bringing closure to the past, deciding what of all that you value is worth preserving, then using the turbulence as an opportunity to change the rules of the game and invent the future. Reset is operating as if nothing is certain except uncertainty. (via Obama is Reset — Are You?)

This does not mean that we will have a worse life, just that our lifestye will be different.

Can mining be sustainable?

Via IISD’s SD-list, I just came a cross a very interesting book about a sustainability project by Alcoa. Given the reputation of the mining industry with regards to environmental stewardship, respect for local communities and transparency, the claim to develop a sustainable local development process raises suspicion. From a quick read through the report, it looks like this project does take a new approach with regards to the social integration and transparency:

There is the license issued by the proper authorities, and this is very important. But just as important, or perhaps even more so, is the license to operate that is granted by the local community, because this is where you’ll be living each day. (…) The operation is fundamentally integrated into community and at any time,  if the community does not grant us its license to operate, it can halt production, whether on the railroad, at the port or in the mine itself.

It is great to see that a mining operation has sought to build a very inclusive and long-term partnership including the local community, civil society, government and researchers. The following are a few questions that came to mind reading the report. The process seems to still be ongoing and parts of the model are not yet implemented, but it promises to be a great experiment that might be able to serve as a model for other companies to do business differently.

Continue reading

On creating value

There were a lot of people who were completely complicit in this grand rip-off of the financial system, because they were thinking about capturing value for themselves, they weren’t thinking about creating value.  —Tim O’Reilly in his Keynote at ETech 2009.

The principle he advocates here is Create more value than you capture. Why? because if everyone only thinks about their own return independently of the overall impact, we get system breakdown, as in the financial system, climate system, food system, … Instead we can choose to create community and lasting value!

Saving costs: a good enough argument for change?

TriplePundit has a post on the benefits of pilot projects to convince managers of the usefulness of becoming sustain:

Assuming your pilot is successful, just multiply out the sustainability and financial benefits by the total number of units to be produced in normal operation. Then… presto! Your demonstrated value isn’t just the return of your pilot project, but the return of the overall project, as if it were implemented throughout your facility.

via Making the Case for Sustainability in Tough Times: The Magic of Pilot Program.

Unfortunately, this simple math does not always work. It will depend on the incentives a manager has to cut costs and the way he is viewed by the rest of the organization (especially his superiors) to try out new things.

Watch this video on resistance to change to see what I mean:

If you want to know more about this video case study, read this explanatory post.