and Strategies for Sustainability
In my closing remarks at the Sustainable Food Laboratory Summit I explained that I did not think sustainability was a goal, a metric, or even an approach to doing business. Rather, it is a principle. And it has at its core a fundamental rethinking of space and time.
Intergenerational equity – using resources today such that we don’t impair the rights of future generations to also meet their needs – is deeply in conflict with what we have come to see as the normal behavior of short-term profit maximizing corporations. That conflict is real and should not be smoothed-over or avoided.
However, for companies seeking to generate long-term value for investors, employees and the communities in which they operate sustainability is absolutely essential to success. It is in recognition of this, as I have noted elsewhere, that Unilever recently announced it was no longer issuing the seemingly sacrosanct quarterly financial report.
Over the longer term, it also becomes essential for business to manage, protect, and restore critical assets without which business will most assuredly collapse. Ecosystem assets are vital to long-term profitability.
And we now possess the tools needed to exercise this responsibility in ways that were unimaginable a few short years ago. First, the fields of resource and environmental economics have come into mainstream thinking. We understand that there is a price associated with using the carbon sequestration capabilities of the natural world. We recognize that it makes sense to pay more for the room with the ocean view than for the one overlooking the dumpster.
Second, knowledge management tools enable us to collect, analyze, understand, and share vast amounts of information about what is happening in our world – from the depths of the ocean, to ice caps, to soil moisture.
And third, we can now place this knowledge in concrete physical space, using geographic information systems.
With vast knowledge comes commensurate responsibility. As Prince Charles states at the opening of Harmony, "I don’t want my grandchildren, or yours, to come along and say to me ‘Why the Hell didn’t you do something about this? You knew what the problem was.”