Sustainability – Awareness and Responsibility

In my last blog, I hit on a topic that unknowingly, is paramount to the current situation associated with sustainability, carbon emissions and personal responsibility.  The fact that I am, or at least feel that I am, not very well versed in this topic likely aligns me with the majority of the population and their understanding, or rather, lack thereof.  I can’t think of one instance that sustainability, green practices, etc. has come up with family or friends during informal gatherings and discussions.  If I were a gambling woman (which I am!), I’d bet that they don’t know much of anything – likely they know much less than me, which I daresay isn’t much at all. 

In the first chapter of AP Hurd’s The Carbon Efficient City, it discusses that “we are a society that pays homage to data; at the same time we are biologically wired to attribute a higher likelihood to events for which we have powerful anecdotes.  …It is the stories we hear that create a perception of danger”, and I’d like to add, awareness.  If this were a regular topic of discussion on TV, I’d likely know more about it; if there was a movie(s) or 60 Minute episode(s) dedicated to providing a greater understanding (such as the movie “Wall Street Money Never Sleeps” and it being created to help educate and/or explain to the general mass how the recent Great Recession came about), then perhaps many more people would know more about it.  If schools incorporated this topic into all levels of education, each year and consistently, if the federal government implemented mandates, if corporations instituted educational workshops and promoted personal responsibility, then the general knowledge of this topic would receive much more attention.

As of now, it appears the only attention being received are from those who are heartfelt, from those who are seriously contemplating and concerned about the legacy we are leaving our future generations and the boat load of problems that will inherently be present if we continue our current state of ignorance and inaction.  The Carbon Efficient City also discusses how a country’s paradigms can be shifted when social communities bond and stand behind beliefs, forcing politicians to take note and thus, action.  Subsequently, politicians make an effort to execute on initiatives that make their constituents happy.  This doesn’t happen overnight, as evidenced by the decades it took to see progress with gay rights, but ‘all good things come to those who wait’ and ‘if it’s easy, it’s probably not worth fighting for’.

The Economist Special Report on the Carbon Economy touches on climate change as a political problem.  I wholeheartedly agree that “governments at national levels have to agree with each other on how to address the global problem.”  It touches on the fact that America’s political system struggles to pass legislation on this because public opinion isn’t supportive enough and elected politicians have very short-term time horizons in getting themselves re-elected.  This reminds me of Wall Street incentivizing employees to do business in a manner that increases the bottom-line in the short-term without considering the long-term and long-lasting effects on the economy.  Brokers received millions of dollars in bonuses for executing deals that ended up causing the financial crisis.  Politicians know what is right, what they should do, but don’t spearhead efforts towards those ends but rather concentrate on initiatives that will make them look better in their constituent’s eye’s and opinion, just so they can get re-elected.  It seems the general trend is to wait and see, to wait until it’s required versus sticking your neck and standing up for what you believe is important morally and holistically, not just for yourself, your company or a small subset.

During an interview with Carol Stanford, she shared an example of a corporation pioneering in terms of taking initiative and being cognizant and conscientious, acting responsibly.  Proctor & Gamble built a new system; they wanted to do what was right and did so before any studies were even being conducted.  They worked with legislature to help remove phosphates from a product that their scientists determined had a damaging affect.  This change was made in legislation because of P&G spearheading awareness of it rather than waiting for legislation to make the discovery and mandate change.  While competitors had to pull products off the shelf, P&G was stocking their products because they were ahead of legislation and doing what was right.  This is one of the reasons why P&G really took off from their competitors in terms of financial success.

I agree with the message of the article, “Creating Shared Value” in that economic efficiency and social progress shouldn’t be considered separately, but synonymously.  The purpose of the corporation, just as with governments, is to create shared value, not just profit.  Providing societal benefits should absolutely not be construed as something that tempers economic success.  As externalities arise, this should be viewed as an opportunity to improve processes and innovate versus something that legislature requires you change at a cost.  Companies are well positioned, if not the best positioned, to help facilitate and expedite awareness through implementing business practices and influencing their employees and competitors, who will then share the wealth and knowledge with their realm of influence.  This is how awareness will happen, one step at a time, one company at a time, one politician at a time, one person at a time,  ultimately adding up to a social conglomerate with a common goal.

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