Paul Hawken challenges this truism in The Ecology of Commerce, explaining how his vision of “natural capitalism” merges goals of profitability and sustainability. Business-as-usual will not be sustainable for anyone. Our living systems are already in decline. We cannot continue to sustain our North American levels of consumption of resources; we would need a few additional planets to do so.
Business leaders have the opportunity – and, some would argue, the responsibility – to change all this. With the capital ability to invest in and support emerging markets for sustainable technologies and products, businesses can pioneer the way for the rest of us. Businesses can demand more post-consumer recycled content in their packaging, they can support less-toxic print materials, they can support organic ingredients and provide healthy and diverse workplaces. Business-as-unusual can create tangible social and environmental change.
Convincing corporate executive types, however, that environmental sustainability makes good business sense isn’t always an easy sell. While some businesses are realizing that adopting environmentally responsible practices – resource efficiency, waste reduction – result in easy cost savings, other businesses can’t be bothered. The case for sustainable business is compelling: social and environmental initiatives often lead to enhanced worker morale and retention, cost savings are significant, and in terms of longevity, well, we simply don’t have the resources to continue on our current path.
As consumers and shareholders, we need to hold businesses accountable to a “triple bottom line,” where social and environmental initiatives count as much as profit margins. As workers, we can do our part by initiating recycling and volunteer programs, bringing reusable dishes and coffee cups, and encouraging management to take on larger environmental and social initiatives. What is good for business need not be bad for nature. It is up to us to prove it.
Editors: Tara Wesely & Eleise Jones, Ruminator Review