The Future of Sustainable Business Practices
The move to alternative energy is a crucial one! The news that we will surpass 4 degrees in global temperature is dire news. How do you feel with a 4 degree temperature, that’s 102 degrees? Life cannot sustain that. We ALL live in a fairly narrow temperature band.
As critical as removing carbon is, there is more than one way to skin a cat…the use of biochar is very promising! This is an example of re-framing problem from energy to carbon reduction. Understanding the depth and breadth of the change we need to make is critical.
Sustainability is a journey, with three stages. The first is the wise use of resources, the second is thinking systemically and achieving zero waste. The third is when business practices actually are regenerative and refresh the Earth. This year I started a research project seeking companies that have made it to the third stage of sustainability.
The good news is that I’ve found about a dozen, so far. They are in all industries, but what they all have in common is that they have made nature a partner in their business. They are constantly asking “what would nature do” and tweaking their business practices to replicate her actions.
The Permaculture Credit Union lends money for impact, not profit. They make loans only if the impact is large. Impact trumps yield and this strategy has allowed them to grow and profit without the reliance on fees that the rest of the financial world seems to deem necessary.
Regenesis Group is a land development company that helps develop site and even regional development plans that are designed to allow nature to successfully evolve in concert with human habitation. By integrating watershed and land formation into the desired use they ensure the long-term success of the project and the long-term health of the ecosystem.
Reflective Images is a jewelry company that uses free trade gold and gem stones. Over the years they have developed an international network of indigenous people who harvest gold and gems without harming the Earth. This benefits not only the environment, but makes a reasonable living possible for thousands of people who are normally shut out of the profits in the jewelry industry, creating a win-win-win situation.
These examples are important, because in so much of what we do in sustainability today, the Earth as no voice. We work hard to reduce our impact, but we have yet to really grapple with what it will take to partner with nature to create a healthy planet. We still justify pollution, the destruction of pristine forests and salmon spawning grounds instead of investing the same amount of time and money in seeking true alternatives.
In each of the examples above the potential for industry transformation is apparent. By using the needs of nature as the discipline for rethinking how they do business, each business has the potential to become a market leader. However, with the exception of the Permaculture Credit Union, all appreciate that small is better. The Credit Union is being pushed to grow because the demand outstrips their ability to grow within the legal constraints they are bound by the FDIC.
If we really follow the path of sustainability to its logical conclusion, we will remake the face of business on this planet. Zero waste, alone, practiced with the understanding that everything we don’t use must become food for something else, is a game changer. We saw that in the story of Interface Carpets. Money is made, cost is reduced, new products, processes and tools all increase the profit margins of those companies willing to go the extra mile. These companies are unique because they are not agricultural of tightly tied to agricultural practices. They are important because they prove that any company in any industry has the potential to make breakthroughs in their sustainable business practices.
So, exactly how do you begin to listen to nature? You can hire someone who is versed in permaculture design principles to help you think like nature. You can use the Sustainable Values Set® to ask the right questions, and you can work to develop a culture that is committed strategically, engaged and empowered. This is not a task that rests with one person or one department. Without the commitment and engagement of the entire organization, the many opportunities for change will be overlooked.
Even companies that are producing ‘green products’ or sources of alternative energy can make unexpected gains when they apply sustainable intelligence to their own companies processes. Even alternative energy and other ‘green’ organizations have a long way to go to become regenerative.
Ford Motor Company, at their River Rouge plant has a green roof, planted with living things and a parking lot with permeable asphalt. This a baby step in working with nature instead of blocking her, but we can and must do better. Ford saves money in heating and cooling and in their waste water bill, so even these small steps carry a significant financial payback. These are long-term fixes with long-term benefits – start NOW.
From Guest Blogger Kathryn Alexander
Craig Shields is the editor of the fast-growing website2GreenEnergy. Craig and his associates in clean energy business and technology publish industry interviews, technology analysis, scientific and engineering research, while offering consulting and investment services for the business of renewable energy.
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