and Strategies for Sustainability
Pondering the categories and labels that we come to accept as fixed and true. My daughter, intellectually inquisitive at 12, was asking, “Who decided Monday was going to be called Monday?” And as we were driving from DC to Maryland, who decided “about state borders anyway?” After groping with various fact-based answers, I paused and realized that this was more than anything a question of metaphysics rather than geographic history.
As Pope Francis completes his US visit in the city of brotherly love, I am traveling through Philadelphia en route to a meeting of the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) with a copy of the Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. How is it that for so many years the issues of global climate stability, poverty and inequality were largely disconnected from one another? As we teach at Mundo Verde PCS, “habits of mind” are critical.
Looking over the EGA members, I think of the work I have been doing with Greyston: NYS’s first benefit corporation, supplier of brownies to Ben & Jerry’s and the pioneering social enterprise that has made open-hire a viable business practice while also providing jobs to the structurally unemployable. Is Greyston a business or a nonprofit; what is one to make of the social good movement?
The business structures we assume have been around for a very long time are, in fact, reasonably new creations. Although we have come a long way from 1602 when the Dutch East India Company was formed, and even from the passage in 1811 of the New York State statute governing corporations, clearly the overall pace of change is not slowing. And yet amidst change, inequality persists and even worsens: today the 85 richest individuals manage wealth equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion people.
The notion of socially responsible business we can date to maybe 1953, sustainability to 1987, the triple-bottom-line to 1994, and benefit corporations to 2006. And in America, philanthropy tracks a not dissimilar course, and one closely connected to business: from Andrew Carnegie in 1905 and the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913, to the UN Global Compact in 2000 that seeks to set ground rules for responsible business behavior on the global stage.
We seem on the cusp of rewriting the fundamental rules and definitions around how we define returns on investment, what makes a business a social enterprise, and where responsibility rests in the efforts to address challenges that cut across the operational and mental boundaries we have created to help us understand a dizzyingly fast and complex world.
This Pope clearly is different, but how much of a difference do his words make? The work we need to do to reset the core frameworks and systems can seem as daunting as ever.
And, by the way, how did we select names for the days of the week?