It’s this: The best of “sustainability”—for all the momentum, progress and enthusiasm of the past decade—just isn’t good enough. But the problem is not just with the word (though I’d like to go on a fast and just stop using it for a month).
No, what if the entire “sustainability” conversation is misconceived? What if we’re asking the wrong questions, in the wrong ways? What if we’re setting our sights far too low, settling for what’s reasonable, familiar, predictable, when the challenges of the both the human prospect—and economic success for both businesses and nations—require something far bolder and more disruptive.
If the International Energy Agency is correct, and we need to leave 70-80% of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground to have a reasonable chance against the worst of climate change, what’s the future of the global energy industry? (And a global finance industry that will have to figure out how to strand those assets.) Will you be a winner or a loser?
If some of the most significant companies in the world didn’t even exist a decade or so ago, what will your industry look like a decade from now? Will some upstart disrupt the ground out from under you? Or will you burn your own bridges, and reinvent your own future?
If a planet moving toward a population of nine billion by 2050 demands unprecedented breakthroughs in how we do everything—to sustain that population in health and freedom, and in ways that restore and renew the living systems that sustain us all—will you be able to find and execute the business models that enable you to thrive economically?
Here’s the biggest challenge—one Natural Logic faces nearly every day: Most people—including many of the best executives at many of the world’s best companies—still act as though they have to choose between making money and making sense, as though there’s a necessary tradeoff between economic success and environmental well being. In fact, the growing body of data—from both our own direct experience with our clients and the trends we are tracking around the world—points to some of the biggest business opportunities of the century. As a 40+ year veteran of this field, I am staggered again and again at the scale of the financial opportunity—and the opportunity to make a difference—for the companies, entrepreneurs and investors willing to embrace it.
While some cite “fiduciary duty” to justify their reluctance,fear or resistance to change, others—from Interface to Unilever—see fiduciary duty as one of the very reasons to drive change, as a partner to vision, innovation and courage.
Where can you find these opportunities? How can you capture them? We’ll explore some specific examples in coming weeks.
I’ve been asked to teach a 3 or 4 x2hrs mini module on sustainability to MBA students. I have carte blanche to be ‘as radical’ as I wish to be and use any interactive material I would like… I would really like this to be an opportunity to plant some seeds, open up curiosity and possibilities for these students to start in their jobs with something more than business as usual…
What are the 3 strong ideas / take aways I should focus on?
Here’s how I responded. (There were already dozens of good, practical suggestions, so I gave myself permission, after a juicy, creative day, a good dinner, and a nice Côtes du Rhône to stretch a little bit.
- The inescapability of the laws of nature (pesky things like the laws of thermodynamics and the principles of evolutionary biology (viz, The Natural Step)) as constraint and guide.
- The power of purpose.(The purpose of business, as Peter Drucker maintained, is to delight customers by creating and delivering value, not necessarily “stuff”; profit is consequence, not purpose.)
- The quite bearable lightness of coordination that results from giving everyone in an organization a clear line of sight that connects their actions, the impacts of those actions, and their contribution to the shared concerns of their organization.
We lost a giant this week. An insipration. A friend.
There have been many moving and eloquent tributes. Here’s mine.
Ray Anderson was a man of big heart, generous spirit, penetrating vision, fierce commitment.
He inspired and taught so many – including me – that yes, we could dream our dreams, and even bigger dreams. AND bring them in to being in the world. Even in the supposedly cold, hard, just-the-facts ma’am world of business.
Ray was able to show, at Interface, that sustainable business leadership could be bold, not tentative, and that it could be profitable.
For all his visibility, so much of what Ray did was invisible. But indispensable. (Few people know that Ray was one of the people that Walmart CEO Lee Scott turned to shape Walmart’s pivotal sustainability initiatives.)
I’ve heard Ray speak dozens of times — every chance I got, really — starting in 1994 (at Pam Lippe & James Nixon’s pioneeing sustainable economy conference in New York, and soon after at U of Oregon) when the spear in the chest story was still fresh, and “Tomorrow’s Child” was already the culmination of his talk, as it would remain for the next decade and a half.
I watched his journey unfold, as he brought in his “dream team” of Benyus, Browning, Fox, Hawken, Lovins, Lovins, McDonough, Piccard, Porritt, Quinn, Robèrt, Stahel to help figure out the HOW of the WHAT that was increasingly clear. As he turned to The Natural Step to help build shared framework that could get the entire Interface organization aboard — down to the fork lift drivers.
I watched him in the film The Corporation (actually I watched him hold the film together), and thought “This man is a prince” — in the very best, archteypal sense of the word.
We’ve been in retreat together, with the Tipping Point Network, and with his leadership team, and it was clear that what you see is what you get.
Most recently, we were together at the Sustainable Industries breakfast in San Francisco — he the keynote, me introducing him and handling the Q&A. He recounted his journey through the motif of “What if a company…?”, chronicling the successes down to the dollars and tons, concluding “I know this is possible, since this is my company, and we have done this. I told him then that I’d heard him speak 20 times over the past decade and a half, and that it kept getting better and better.
A lot of executives get hung up on “the business case” for sustainability. Not Ray. He understood (as I’ve written before) that the business case doesn’t tell you what to do; your heart does. “What’s the business case,” Ray would ask, “for destroying the planet?”
Tuesday evening, as many of us were reeling from the loss, a friend asked “With Ray gone, who will step up now?” I knew immediately how I would answer her, and posted this video:
Who? Me. And you.
As you may know, 500 of our peers just named me a finalist for the Pinnacle Award of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), for contributions to the field of sustainability. The other nominees are Ray Anderson, Amory Lovins, Karl-Henrik Robert and Bob Willard, so as you can imagine I am deeply honored to be in the company of heros.
Would you help me deepen the meaning and impact of this award? I’m looking for five people to work with me in a personal coaching relationship, so I can bring my experience to them — to help them take their sustainability work, their effectiveness and their impact to the next level.
Is this something that could benefit you, or someone you work with? If so, please call or email me today so we can discuss whether you’re an appropriate candidate for this program. I’ll ask you about your goals, concerns. commitments and challenges; I’ll describe how the program works; and I’ll make clear my commitments to you. (In a nutshell: to be more committed to your commitments than you are!)
I suggest you call today, since I’m limiting this program to five people. (Be sure to ask me about the special discount available for people who sign on by Friday May 27.)
I presented the opening keynote recently at the Communitelligence conference, Communicating Sustainability 2010: Integrating Social Responsibility Into Your Organization’s DNA, held at Applied Materials HQ in Santa Clara, California.
Why the “mysteriously elusive sustainability business case”? Because it’s not that hard to find (if you know where to look), and yet most companies have a hard time finding it. (Perhaps because they don’t believe they can find it?)
In this excerpt I talk about the business case and opportunity for aggressive sustainability programs. And I ask: what if we approached this issue with true urgency? How innovative would we be? What worlds could we speak into being?