New Bottom Line Volume 13.4 – Sustainable business – Declaration of Leadership

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The sustainable business phenomenon is taking deeper root. Just look at the business response to global warming presented in Business Week’s recent cover story, for example.

But many of us who’ve been laboring in the vineyards for the past few decades have been wondering whether there’s a fundamental problem remaining: all too much of the effort from business, government and NGOs has focused on mitigating the problem, making things less bad, slowing the rate of decline of the regenerative capacity of the living systems that sustain human culture and economy.

Bill McDonough offers the simple and compelling metaphor of slowing down a car that’s going in the wrong direction, instead of turning it around. Frank Dixon of Innovest Strategic Value Advisors has been calling for raise the bar from “corporate social responsibility” to “total corporate responsibility — focused on promoting system changes that hold firms fully responsible.” (See http://www.greenbiz.com/news/columns_third.cfm?NewsID=26612) John Ehrenfeld, MIT professor and industrial ecology leader, questions the conventional approach to sustainable development: “Creating true sustainability,” he argues in a recent Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) Journal article (http://www.solonline.org/reflections/browse/), “requires radical solutions, not quick fixes, [beginning] by examining our own behaviors and assumptions regarding consumption, personal satisfaction, and technology.”

This “Declaration of Leadership” is my current contribution to that discussion. Commissioned by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA), and guided by the new California Sustainable Business Council, it’s intentionally both spare and provocative. Every phrase in it could be further explained, justified, specified, documented and exampled — and soon will be, on an interactive web page. But then it wouldn’t be a vision statement. (Also in process with ACWMA support, a robust “sustainable business rating system” — but more on that another time.)

The purpose of this declaration: to challenge already good companies, developers, designers and public authorities to an even higher level of thinking, aspiration and performance. (See also: “How High the Moon: The challenge of ‘sufficient’ goals,” at http://www.natlogic.com/approach/new-bottom-line/new-bottom-line-volume-13-2004/new-bottom-line-volume-133-how-high-the-moon-the-challenge-of-sufficient-goals/.)

Please send me your comments and suggestions, at ‘leadership at natlogic dot com’ — and invite me to engage your organization in a dialog about aspiration, possibility and profitable implementation.

Sustainable business – A Declaration of Leadership

Because:
the well being of our economy fundamentally depends on the services from nature that support it,

We envision our company, suppliers and customers, and our community doing business in ways that:

To do this we will:

We will measure our progress by the trends of our

We will pursue these steps with a commitment to

That’s our stake in the ground. I’d be interested to know how this compares with your organization’s vision — and its reality — in these two key dimensions of business and sustainability: Are you just putting a band-aid on environmental and social problems, or are you making a substantive contribution to solving them? Are you leaving money on the table, or are you systematically building value for your company and its stakeholders?

Feel free to forward this to your colleagues. And use it to stimulate fruitful discussions about whether your company is taking the challenge and the opportunity seriously—and creatively—enough. (You can also download a poster version—and sign on to the Declaration!—at http://www.DeclarationOfLeadership.com.)

Please let me know what comes of those discussions; we’ll update this declaration, taking your feedback into account.

(c) 2004 Gil Friend. All rights reserved.

New Bottom Line is published periodically by Natural Logic, offering decision support software and strategic consulting that help companies and communities prosper by embedding the laws of nature at the heart of enterprise.

Gil Friend, systems ecologist and business strategist, is President and CEO of Natural Logic, Inc.

May be posted intact–including this notice–in any non-commercial forum.
Please inquire at “reprint_rights at natlogic dot com” before reproduction in any commercial forum.