By Elliot Hoffman, CEO
Those of us born and raised in the post-WW2 era experienced a time like no other in human history. It was a golden age where economic growth and human well-being made huge advances. It was a time when we all felt that sense of boundless opportunity. Unbeknownst to any of us there were the huge hidden costs that are now becoming clearer every day.
Since the late 70s, that golden age has turned to rust for most and we are obviously facing what many believe to be one the greatest challenges to ever face humanity. We’ve seen the charts that show a hockey stick incline of our global and environmental footprint from 1950 to today and into the future. Climate change, deforestation, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, fossil fuel consumption, GHG emissions, coral reef destruction, the melting of the glaciers and sea level rise — these all show that the post WW 2 era was the beginning of the downward spiral.
At the time we were not aware of the consequences of our actions. We no longer have that excuse of ignorance. We have a clear scientific consensus, the knowledge, and even the wisdom to now understand the consequences of our actions. The only real issue remaining is, are we going to change voluntarily, using our knowledge and wisdom, or is mother earth going to beat it into us?
I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question. The good news is that there are many millions of people and thousands of organizations stepping up to the challenge — and it is a challenge. In the book Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, preeminent environmental scientist Donella Meadows reflects that there are two root causes of all our major challenges: extreme individualism and extreme short sightedness. So how do we overcome this?
Currently, many people and organizations are developing successful approaches for dealing with natural systems, utilizing and conserving resources, conducting financial transactions which produce a better economic system, cultivating the benefits of diversity, transparency and collaboration, building more successful and resilient communities, and creating more nurturing relationships. This is a great time to be alive. Few times in history offer the opportunity to shape our world’s future as profoundly as we can in the days ahead. We now have the knowledge, wisdom, imagination and resources to design and build a future where all life on earth can flourish.
While our hope is that eventually we can all help move business, society and the world to a place that Chris Laszlo and Judy Sorum Brown and their co-authors advocate in their upcoming book, Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business, we are still far from that goal. We must first get to that place called sustainability – ASAP – where we stop wasting our diminishing resources, stop using the natural world as a garbage dump, and start recognizing the economic, social and environmental truth that is before us.
With the launch of Just Desserts over 30 years ago, we were at the forefront of a new movement toward socially responsible business. The success of that brand, along with others from that time — Ben & Jerry’s, Stoneyfield Farm, and Seventh Generation to name a few — proved that social responsibility and sustainability makes good business sense.
Today, forward thinking companies like Tesla, Patagonia, Braskem, Nike, and SolarCity are making even bigger strides. What is needed is a shift in our mindset and our behavior and the widespread acceptance of sustainability as a compelling and wise business strategy. There is no doubt that we are capable of extraordinary achievement; that we have the wisdom, resources and knowledge to design and create a world where all life will flourish. It’s business and our ability to create and innovate that hold the keys to change.