by Bistra Kumbaroska on 27th July, 2012 at 4:49 PM CEST
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.”
A recent article published in Harvard Business Review reminded me how far we are and how far we can go in our passion or concern for environmental sustainability. No one these days seriously denies the need for sustainable business practices. Even those concerned about only business and not the fate of the planet recognize that the viability of business itself depends on the resources of healthy ecosystems—fresh water, clean air, robust biodiversity, productive land—and on the stability of just societies. Happily, most of us also care about these things directly.
Describing George Orwell’s experiment, in the book Embedded Sustainability, Nadya Zhexembayeva and Chris Lazlo give an interesting example of what happens to modern men today: …”I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal... Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period — twenty years, perhaps — during which he did not notice it.”
And now what?
The concept of sustainability is evolving and soon, instead of asking either “how can we turn a profit?” or “how can we minimize our impact?” managers will see those as two sides of the same coin. Sustainability will simply be how business is done.
Of course, the bounty of nature is priceless. But the unfortunate effect of our seeing these inputs to well-being as incalculable has been that they are treated as free. That mindset creates problems when resources turn out not to be limitless or indestructible. A failure to price resources also makes it difficult to think clearly about trade-offs, which many decisions relating to sustainability involve. When inputs and outputs can be stated in like terms (which is to say, dollar terms), optimal solutions can be found.
There's nothing enlightening about it. Accept it or not, maybe one day we will have to pay in order to breathe clean air. And only then we might realize how meaningful every step we made in the past was.
With price-tag on it or not - never forget to cherish the priceless.