A few weeks ago I wrote about the challenge of preparing your company for a future you can’t possibly predict, and navigating it successfully. I’ll return to that theme next week. But first…

I spent last week at the Sustainable Brands conference. (It’s not really a conference, they told me. No, it’s sort of a sustainability burning man graduate seminar, I said, though with less dust, drugs and naked dancing). It was at SB a year ago that I challenged companies to create the biggest brand promise they could possibly make—and discover the opportunities that such a promise could open for their business.

This year SB opened with a provocative challenge of its own: showing the anti-consumption screed I Am (a film by Ace Ventura: Pet Detective director Tom Shadyac!) as the kickoff to a brand—and implicitly consumption—focused conference. Though the conference didn’t dive as deeply into that challenge as I would have liked into this question, using it to open the program was a bold move. As I back in the last century, during the roiling “free trade” debates about GATT, NAFTA and the WTO: We operate in business logic built around maximizing the throughput of stuff across the planet: sell more stuff, make more money. Free Trade harmonizations were designed to remove any barriers to maximizing flow of stuff.

Yet, as Dave Gustashaw, ex of Interface, would remind us: All things being equal, each additional kilogram of stuff moved each additional kilometer means additional environmental impact. More extraction, refining, processing, manufacturing, heating, cooling, packing, shipping disposing and even recycling—all things being equal— all contribute to greater environmental impact.

This then is one of a handful of core challenges as the heart of the sustainability: how to decouple physical resource flows from financial flows and from human well-being and happiness. It’s why Natural Logic has challenged our clients, since our earliest days, to focus on “More value. Less stuff.™” It’s why we long ago rejected people’s strange self-identification as consumers (there is no consumption in nature, only transformation). It’s why we’ve become excited about the massive economic prospects for companies that can invent ways to deliver value while extracting nothing, selling nothing, and throwing nothing away.

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