(This is the first of a series of blogs that were published by the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR). They address a very salient issue facing the planet now and for the future: how to get people and corporate cultures to change. This blog accurately reflects the corporate code, mantra, whatever you wish to call it, of Global Blue Technologies and its family of affiliated companies.)
IFCNR is not climbing atop a bully pulpit. We do not pretend to pontificate that ours are the only solutions everyone must adopt. Yes, we do study problems and search for solutions. But, the point of this and succeeding blogs is how to get others soul-searching for ways that address practical and effective remedies for the daily insults we are inflicting upon the Earth. Then, of their own volition, agree on paths of action.
Everyday IFCNR runs across article after article reporting on the latest global issues concerning the earth’s natural resources.
Regardless of each day’s specific subject matter — another threatened species or another overfished stock, or the destruction of a coral reef, or the growing sea of plastic waste choking ocean life or whatever, (you can take your pick) — it soon becomes apparent the articles are almost always split into two slants:
- Those that express and bemoan the crisis and point fingers at those who caused the disaster, or disaster in the making, and
- Those who either dismiss the disaster as not real, or who maintain “yes, this has happened” then mutter the refrain “but we are fixing it,” a deliberate platitude to quell the potential of real social action.
In 1992 at Rio Convention, we listened while the leaders of the world’s nations and the heads of a multitude of international NGO’s laid out a litany of global disasters in the making and advanced aggressive agendas to combat each of these atrocities.
Almost 25 years later, we leave it to you to judge from an environmental perspective whether the world is better or worse off today.
What has become increasingly clear during the past quarter century is that the businesses, corporations and companies that mine and harvest and take the world’s natural resources for profit, have not moved aggressively enough to develop better practices; nor have they moved effectively to create true sustainability.
Yes, there is an enormous amount of lip service being paid to the environment and the problems that plague it. And yes, these businesses have become acutely sensitive to the need to have the right catchwords and phraseology imbedded in their marketing materials, but the hard truth is that for the most part, this is empty and vacuous drivel.
Despite the rise of the global “cottage industry” of watchdog organizations that certify businesses as employing environmental best practices there really is no independent verification that those “best practices” are being followed. Daily we see cases of fraud and deception and abuse of our planet’s precious resources on a global scale.
NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) continue to investigate and expose atrocities, some real, some fabricated. Many NGO’s that started out as compassionate advocates have sadly become so money oriented that one can hardly distinguish them from the corporations they are attacking.
The governments of the world’s nations continue to try and regulate through legislation and punitive penalties and taxes, but in truth, relying on those means to change corporate behavior without a strong profit incentive is a hard if not impossible way to create a new paradigm for doing business.
The simple truth is that only “businesses” can reverse the history of use and abuse and develop practices that address the sustainability and long term health of the resource.
Sadly as long as the only bottom line for a business is how much profit they can squeeze from their activities, as long as that is the single bottom line they espouse, there is very little realistic possibility that real change (by that I mean anything “meaningful”) on any global scale will occur.
So how can a company or a corporation start to structure itself into a global steward of the earth’s resources while still making a profit at feeding, clothing, and sheltering the world.
It is clearly in their long term self interest but enlightened long term self interest awareness has never been a benchmark of the corporate mind set.
One would hope the old fashioned homily “pigs get fed but hogs get slaughtered” might get their attention.
In 1998 we read a book that had enormous impact on IFCNR.
The author was John Elkington, and the book was “Cannibals with Forks.” An intriguing title at the very least.
In his opening Elkington asked the question: “If a cannibal begins to use a fork, is this progress?” The inference for me being that technological advances do not necessary lead to a better circumstance.
In early university philosophy classes this is often one of the first ethical questions poised to eager freshman students. “Because we can do something does that mean we ought to do that something?”
From this “tongue in cheek” but ultimately very serious question Elkington quickly laid out his radical, yet eminently practical and commonsense thesis.
That thesis was and is, that if 21st century corporations want to stay in business over the coming decades and remain profitable, they must embrace two additions to their profit-driven bottom line. This new “triple bottom line” joins environmental stewardship and social equity and justice to financial gain.
Do yourself a favor and read the opening introduction and chapter 1 of Elkington’s book. If that is all you read of this book it will at the very least give you a different perspective as you watch the current business world operate.
If you buy into the idea that a “triple bottom line” can give the world a better set of business practices regardless of the industry, then the real challenge is how can we motivate those who run and operate these corporate structures to begin to consider for themselves and their companies this triple bottom line approach?
The search, then, will be for those pioneering companies that both develop a triple bottom line business model and make that the true essence of their business culture.
How do you motivate people to change? Or more to the point, how do you motivate leaders of businesses to change their entire corporate culture?
IFCNR has some thoughts we want to share on that topic in the next blog.