Positive Thought Three: More inspiration and action, less guilt and blame

I believe by 2052, our modern plasma TV lifestyles will be sustainable.  If you challenge me, are you inadvertently giving everyone permission to try less, and even fail?

Rather than blaming individuals, public officials, and commerce for creating unsustainability, our energies are better served by supporting and inspiring leaders to focus their talents on re-engineering to provide more modern lifestyles using less “stuff”. When we think of sustainable development, we should ask: What’s the narrative?

Let’s face it – mankind is very clever. The world’s tallest building was built in the former deserts of Dubai. Is that a sign of man’s ability to deliver complex projects – or a high-carbon folly?  For me, the Burj Khalifa demonstrates us putting our minds to a challenge. We are good at taking on big challenges, so by seeing sustainable development as a challenge or project, we are more likely to deliver the changes we seek.

Environmentalists and business people are both horrified by the allegation that it takes 11,000 litres of water to make one beef quarter ponder, or 20,000 litres to make one kilo of coffee. But in that very waste lies an opportunity.

In business, we speak of ‘agile’ or ‘lean’ manufacturing – producing a product (like a quarter pounder) as efficiently and effectively as possible.  If it really does take 11,000 litres of water, there is ample room for water savings in our burger supply chain. Sustainable development is applying that logic to every aspect of the modern plasma TV lifestyle. Using this approach, the 9 billion modern lives required by 2052 become more realistic.

The way we approach people and organisations who might be involved in something unsustainable really matters. The natural approach is to go in hard, criticise and humiliate.  Traditional campaigns have worked to some extent, but look how sport coaches handle challenges. Imagine you are the coach of a children’s sports team. You know (and you know the children know) that the opponents they are facing are much better; beating them is unlikely. The kids are in their team jersey and they are about to play. Which pep talk from you is likely to give them that extra bit of energy: one which focuses on their strengths, or one that reminds them how rubbish they are? It is a simple metaphor, but one which I wonder if the environmentalism movement could draw some lessons from.  Which is more likely to be heard and followed: a technically correct pessimist, or a slightly inaccurate optimist?

Rethinking Corporate Sustainability – If Only We Ran the Planet Like a Shop! (374.8 KB)