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Part one: Education
3. Educating the executive and students
4. The learning process within corporations
5. Assessing corporate environmental performance
6. Media, community, and business
3. Educating the executive and students
There are no textbooks available on how to operate a business in an ecologically sustainable way. However, there are a handful of companies today that are ecological pioneers while at the same time being very successful in business terms. One of these ecological pioneer companies is Patagonia, the premier maker of outdoor clothing and equipment.
From its beginnings in the early seventies to its present size with gross sales exceeding $100 million, Patagonia has been committed to producing equipment of the highest quality, valuing its employees for their uniqueness and diversity, and demonstrating a strong concern for the environment. Its five-year environmental goals include environmental accounting, eliminating all solid waste from domestic facilities, increasing awareness of product impact, working with suppliers to meet environmental standards, and reducing the use of paper and energy while expanding that of sustainable paper products and forms of energy. In addition, the company has embraced environmental activism, donating 1% of its sales to environmental causes.
Kris McDivitt served as CEO of Patagonia for fifteen years, during which she helped guide the organization on the path toward sustainability. In this chapter McDivitt remembers how she gradually became aware that traditional executive attitudes and decision-making methods, including some of her own, were fatally out of step with contemporary reality particularly with environmental reality. She recounts her unsatisfying experiences in trying to get up to speed through education in a leading business school, and draws challenging conclusions as to how business education must be reshaped if it is to serve executives, society, and a sustainable world.
McDivitt's reflections are a passionate testimony of an executive who wishes to do more than just do good business. She offers tints testimony so that many other executives who find themselves in similar situations will not have to reinvent the wheel she designed and put into practice over all those years.
McDivitt to CEO: "What do
you think of when you hear the term sustainability? "
CEO: "Keeping our profits above 11%, year in, year out."
McDivitt: "Ah ... I see."
All social and educational reforms must be assessed in terms of whether they mitigate or exacerbate the ecological crisis.
- C.A. Bowers
In order for there to be a substantive shift in direction within the corporate community, tending away from the current world market system oriented towards never ending growth and profits and moving toward a more sustainable future, executives must agree that there is an environmental and social crisis in the first place. Today, among the world's corporate executives, we do not have consensus on this. We have instead what Fritjof Capra describes as a "crisis of perception" within the ranks of business leaders and among the thousands of students in business schools throughout the world. These people will be expected to take part in the ever-expanding role of business as it increasingly determines the fates of governments, communities, and even families. The degree to which our nation's political leaders, corporate leaders, and top economists fail to understand this crisis, or choose to ignore it, is truly alarming given current signs of near total ecological collapse of our natural resources and distress signals of mammoth proportions that our cities are disintegrating. Indeed, we are in the throes of a potentially fatal crisis of perception, and business, particularly transnationals, is exacerbating the social and ecological crisis we find ourselves in today.
One of the ways in which we can begin to bridge the gap between reality and perception is through better education of the people who are often blinded or misinformed by their distance from ecological and social reality corporate executives. As a corporate executive myself, I have sought out such education.
Unfortunately, the governmental and private institutions funding our universities and promoting private think tanks on global business do not realize that we are on the brink of real ecological and social collapse or, if they are prepared to admit that we are failing in some way, they are sure that all our problems can be "fixed" by new and better technologies. Generally speaking, there is no conscious awareness within our culture that we live on this planet as a guest, not as the host. We have long been inculculated with the concept that the earth, her natural resources, and the other species coexisting with us exist solely to support humans and our development. So long as we believe this, and have an unquestioned trust and belief in technology to support us, we create an almost unthinkably difficult situation for the reeducation of business executives and students within today's educational arena.
Formal education for business executives should begin in kindergarten. Barring that, the re-education of CEOs doing business within our consumer culture can and must begin by careful examination of the effects of businesses on cultures, the natural world, and the species living within it.
My own re-education began to take form after sharing the leadership of our successful business for 15 years, watching with a kind of fascination as its growth tilted upward each year and our profits glided upwards with it. Not being among the MBA-possessing elite, I began to suspect that I was unprepared to be running as large a company as I found myself running. I was unwilling to trust experience over schooling, so I signed up for a program at Stanford University for "executive training." Stanford University's business school is considered one of the leading institutions of its type, and I had high hopes that it would teach me what I needed to know. I was utterly unprepared for my discovery that business school is no place to learn about business; in fact, school was part of what I was beginning to recognize as the problem with business. At the end of my term at Stanford I wrote a long, frustrated letter to the head of the program, outlining my dismay. Among other things, 1 wrote, at extraordinary cost of time and money I was handed old, out-of-date ideas served up by tired tenured professors who were at best theorists, never having been out working in corporations day to day; instead, they sat there on the campus supporting the dominant view in order to protect their jobs. The experience gave me, I wrote, a new understanding that our university system exists in large part to support and provide continuity to a world view that represents the consumer culture. Until this point (naively) I had seen the upper level of formal education as being relatively independent of social, economic, and philosophical bias - rather as I had thought our small-town newspaper was independent until I was old enough to see that the voice of that paper was simply the voice of its owner. Perhaps most importantly, sitting through those classes I saw firsthand that in all their evaluating of profit and loss, tips on how to increase efficiency in production and distribution, ideas on marketing to new customers, and suggestions for "motivating the workforce," there was no discussion of business in the context of its profound effects on society worldwide and its impact on our natural world and the millions of species within it. Alternative resource-based accounting principles were never even mentioned, never mind discussed in depth. There was no debate, no review of the simple concept of limitation, a concept which one of Patagonia's chief shareholders had been clamoring about for years: the limits of our natural resources, limits to the number of "customers" the earth can support, limits to the sheer size of any business. The idea of corporate responsibility of any kind was not a topic. Nor was the idea that corporations have, over time, been given more "rights" than an individual, so that we as their leaders have a responsibility to behave in the best interests of our immediate work community, our regional community, and the natural world at large.
In my business school experience, and I am sure it was not unique, these urgent matters were not in the curriculum, and not even topics of informal conversation or debate. Yet these are just a few of the realities that desperately need to be addressed in front of executives and business school students at every point in their education.
Instead, students are systematically excluded from crucial knowledge: that we are in an ever-deepening ecological crisis unparalleled in history, that the number of species going extinct is an astounding 137 per day or roughly 50,000 species per year, that the social degeneration and rapid decline of family and community cohesiveness is nearing explosive dimensions, that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are often bad for our health and increasingly held in great mistrust by the public. Progress, as we have defined it over the past 60 years and prosperity as we have raced after it for as many years has not, in fact, raised the quality of our lives as a society. (Clearly, some of the world's population - perhaps .01% through their vast accumulation of wealth are enjoying life just fine; however, they do so by having enough money to avoid the realities of their communities.) If we can agree that these points are generally true, then clearly we can agree that a general alarm must be sounded within our educational system - that there must be a long and deep discussion at every level, resounding debate, and the clamor of concern and evaluation between teachers and students. There is not. Within the departments of sociology, ecology, and biology, you will find plenty of wise voices acknowledging these crises and how they are linked together. However, it has been my experience that you will find no mention of these ideas within the MBA programs in our business school.
Why is there no debate regarding our natural resources being used up at breakneck speed, resources upon which most of our businesses are either directly or indirectly relying? Why no discussion of our unsustainable habits, which no number of technological breakthroughs will change? Business executives attending workshops, seminars, classes, even private tutorials are not hearing from their lecturers that the organizations they oversee are based on an economic model of unlimited growth and multinational proliferation that cannot, will not, be sustained over the long run.
What are the real prospects that face us? As David Ehrenfeld writes so perceptively in Beginning Again, "A more likely cause of upheaval is the disintegration of the extremely complicated and finicky economic, industrial, social, and political structure that we have put together in the decades since the Second World War. This structure has been supported by resources, especially petroleum, that are waning, and by an environmental and cultural legacy - soil, vegetation, air, water, families, traditions - that we so foolishly took for granted, squandered and lost.
"The visible agent of this change would be a global economic collapse. Such a collapse would probably disrupt international trade, trigger the disintegration of many multinational corporations and other overstuffed, subsidized super-organizations, end the modern welfare state, diminish governmental regulatory supervision (including environmental regulations), bring about massive famines and movements of populations, greatly increase unemployment in the industrialized nations, all but eliminate luxury goods and exceedingly complex manufacturers, including many advanced military weapons, hasten the spread of new and old epidemic diseases, trigger the inevitable population crash, and cause a proliferation of regional economic, social and political systems.,' I have been a guest at some of the top university business schools in the United States and not once have I heard it mentioned that we live in a society gone out of control.
In the hundreds (if not thousands) of seminars and classrooms filled to talk about "management" - managing your people in ten minutes, managing time, managing more effectively, men managing women, women managing men, managing money, managing "down" - you will find no discussion of what Ehrenfeld calls "the over-managed society." There is an extraordinary proliferation of managers in our society, says Ehrenfeld, an ever-increasing percentage of people who control other people but do not themselves produce anything real or useful. The problem of the growth of management and its influence can be seen in nearly every area of modern life. Yet you will not hear of this in the schools.
Students and executives are still being drilled on the virtues of the path toward growth and ever-higher profits, learning strategies for global expansion and how to use an ever-expanding computerized communications link-up around the world. There are few, if any, schools bringing to the forefront the raw facts that the profit and growth curves we seek are not limitless and that global expansion of transnationals is in fact creating environmental and social disintegration. Within the massive and almost unavoidable infrastructure surrounding computers and computerization, we find no thoughtful advice for us, no deep analysis of what the effects of our use of the computer within our businesses actually is.
In reality, the introduction of computers has brought about an extraordinary acceleration of our use of the earth's resources and has brought us to the edge of their depletion, but that is not part of today's curriculum. Executives need help in thinking about such things, but we do not get it from the educators. For example, at Patagonia we have installed e-mail, perhaps without seriously considering how this technological development might change the basic manner in which we communicate with each other - probably changing the basic culture we are so happy with in ways we will find destructive of human relationships, intimacy, trust, and creativity. We corporate leaders, like many others within our technological culture, are accepting out of hand that technological change means progress and progress necessarily means "better." Surely all of us need to be keenly aware of, if not in agreement with, the opposing viewpoint that technological advancements often have destructive effects on our companies as well as on the planet and its human and natural communities.
As robotization accelerates, we have not focused clearly on the darker side of creating ever greater "efficiencies" and "productivity" in our workforce: that it leads to a rapidly shrinking number of jobs, which will lead to communities, families, and individuals left jobless, marginalized - and unable to buy our products. We are cannibalizing the very consumers we depend upon for our sales of goods and services.
In looking at the educational process and curriculum of some schools we see that, in general, the current near-sightedness only reflects the general lack of attention paid outside our schools as well. It is my opinion as a business leader and as someone with some experience lecturing within the business school system about which I speak that, in fact, it will be extremely difficult to challenge the traditionally held viewpoint that is being taught in our educational system. As glaring examples, let me describe two situations outside the business schools:
(1) Chris Maser, author, lecturer, and international consultant on sustainable forestry with 20 years of experience, cites this example: "I was a guest lecturer in a forest management class in which I discussed large woody debris, small mammals, mycorrhizal fungi, nutrient cycling, and the effects of gross habitat alterations in coniferous forests. When the class was over, a young student came straight at me so angry his fists were clenched and his face was red. 'I'm a senior,' he shouted, 'and I'm going to graduate in a couple of weeks. How come this is the first time I've heard any of this? I've just spent four years in what they call forest management! You just showed me that I don't know a damn thing about how a forest works! And now I'm supposed to be a forester! What in the hell am I going to do out there!' This young man was astute enough when given opposing information to let his intuition speak and thereby penetrate dogma's armor and see the economic lie of forest management. But as far as his university training was concerned, the truth came late."
(2) Within the University of California system, in the heart of what is still the chief supplier of our nation's food, you will not find in the agriculture college a formal and legitimized division concentrating on the development of organic growing models; the only exception is the small and essentially self-financed agro-ecology school on the Santa Cruz campus. The situation within the business schools is essentially no different and thus we find ourselves confronting growing ecological, economic, and social disintegration with little help coming from the very institutions whose charter supposedly lies in readying their charges for the future we face.
Anyone can identify destructive forest practices. You don't have to be a professional forester to recognize bad forestry any more than you have to be a doctor to recognize ill health. If logging looks bad, it is bad. If a forest appears to be mismanaged, it is mismanaged.
- Gordon Robinson, head forester, Southern Pacific Railroad, 1939-66
A badly managed company is as obvious as a badly managed forest. Are some corporate leaders and students sensing that all is not well in the kingdom? I think so. Over the past seven years I have observed a trend, albeit a very slow one, in interest from students in front of whom I've spoken. Perhaps only on an instinctual level, the underpinnings of corporate life are beginning to make less and less sense and hold up less and less well to scrutiny. Common sense makes students skeptical, I think, and when someone from the ranks of the business community essentially confirms to them what they suspect on their own, there is visible enthusiasm for more discussion. Moreover, in my recent experience in talking to students, some of them are understanding clearly that we bear responsibility to our communities and to the world at large.
We cannot reorient the entire educational system from kindergarten forward, but it is past time to begin to infuse strong, well founded counter views into the classical business education. In its role of uncritically supporting the current economic system, business education in fact helps to keep it disfunctional. To believe that any business is capable of complete sustainability is, in my opinion, a delusion. However, between our current global market concepts and total sustainability lies tremendous room for aggressive and effective change in mindset and goals for corporate executives and students following in their footsteps.
The time has come to begin weaving into our business schools the kind of information and discussions that I so sorely missed and needed to have as the CEO of Patagonia. As proud as I am of what we have built as a company and as strong as Patagonia continues to be, I see its possibilities for being so much more as staggering. And, of course, the message that executives send through a company does not stop there; it filters out through your family, community, and even nation. We can set in motion positive benefits that reach as far into the planetary ecosystem as our negative impacts do.
I am not a professional educator and I do not pretend to understand the complete range of possibilities in educating students. However, on the strength of what I have realized that I need to know, and what I need executives to know who might work for me, [ make the following recommendations for either supplementing or replacing teaching in business schools today:
(1) First and foremost, whether we are looking at an entire curriculum for a full-term business school or a simple three-day workshop for executives, topics must bridge several fields of study. Business is not an isolated realm but part of a much larger system within which it functions. Build sessions weaving biology, philosophy, history, ecology, anthropology, and economics together. It is essential that we figure out how to articulate our business interdependence with everything else. It is necessary to show that corporations are not islands unto themselves - the decisions I make sitting at my desk trigger an almost incalculable number of reactions.
(2) Each student of business should learn not only how to account for profit and loss but be given at least two or three courses on accounting for our natural resources. Our forests, soils, oceans, rivers, air, mountains, and lakes are, in the end, as critical to the long-term survival of our company as our inventory levels, employees, and growth curve and yet we do not see the connection.
(3) Having understood what resources are and what there is out there, we CEOs need to know how many of them have been used up, not to be replenished. What resources are being used at rates exceeding their carrying capacity? The devastation of our tropical and temperate rainforests, the extinction of species, the rapid rate at which our nation's prime top soil is being eroded, all these "resource assessments" need to be brought onto the desks of every chief executive whose company operations affect them- and almost all of our operations do. We should each be schooled on the cause-and-effect relationships between our corporations and the undoing of our ecosystems. Shifting the consumer culture away from its traditional ways is, admittedly, wrenching and difficult. But change is within our grasp more often than we imagine. For example, had we at Patagonia understood twenty years ago that conventional cotton was one of the most toxics-intensive, water-consuming materials, would we have used it to the extent that we do? Would we have avoided the predicament we are now in, of racing around trying to find alternatives to industrial cotton? Generally speaking, business leaders are not the Darth Vaders we are made out to be, but rather, as a group, enormously uninformed. I have faith that, given all of the information (though perhaps a repeated dose is necessary) we corporate leaders will begin, even if sometimes grudgingly, to shift our decision-making toward committing fewer non-sustainable acts.
(4) An enormously urgent point that urgently needs making in every lecture hall in every business school is that of the extermination of indigenous cultures around the world as they are rapidly absorbed into the global consumer culture. My own personal understanding of this disaster has changed my business strategic direction almost 180 degrees. In the 1970s, when Coca-Cola began its global campaign on television, every night I watched the magical blending of nationalities singing "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony ..." and I was right there, somehow associating that vision with world peace and love. Today I don't see it that way. In 1984, while trekking near the upper borders of Nepal, I noticed a Nepalese man trundling along barefooted carrying a tall stack of twigs on his back - and sporting a Patagonia jacket over his traditional Nepali robe. At the time, how proud I was that even in the farthest corners of the world I could find someone wearing one of our products - even though it was almost certainly the gift of some earlier tourist! Now, however, I see that the most frightening results of our "success" in marketing our products lie in the monoculturalization of the world. We must acknowledge this counterproductive result of transnational business, within business schools and in our business lives. Using myself as an example, I would not necessarily make the same marketing decisions today that I did some fifteen years ago. We must always seek to understand the true ramifications of our actions.
(5) I am not a supporter of the case-study method; however, I do not think it will go away. So I suggest including the following kinds of case studies in the future:
Take a single large industrial fisheries business and study the long-term effects their methods of fishing have on their business. Do the same study on the independent, small-scale fisherman and compare the effects of the two types of fishing.
Develop a case study on the long-term activities of one of North America's largest lumber companies and push their business model out into the future.
Take also the case study of the Northern Atlantic and Pacific salmon; develop the same framework for one of the dying indicator species on our planet. Forget about the study of the North Chicago Bank, dated around 1961; it is no of use to us. Relevance is in the interconnected planetary reality we find ourselves in today. We should be using case studies that exemplify the real nature of our businesses and the world we are doing business in.
(6) Business leaders (and students too) should understand first hand the interdependence between corporations and ecosystems. A surprising number of CEOs have never visited the sites where their products are produced (or discarded). Field trips to the dark side of production and disposal would begin to give us a more complete picture, supplementing the glamorous side of business. One rarely forgets the floating dead fish in the standing water or the parched and dead lands of a clearcut forest.
(7) Make the study of contemporary critiques of technology a mandatory part of our business education. Real education requires that we hear from the growing number of serious thinkers and social activists who are developing a sound analysis of the effects of mega-technologies; we CEOs and students must come to terms with this burgeoning critique.
(8) The study of the philosophy and history of our current western world view is an important groundwork from which a better understanding of how we got into this ecological mess in the first place will come. It is perhaps clearer in business than in any other area of human activity that apparently abstract ideas have real-world consequences.
(9) The work being done by economists in developing new ways of analyzing our nation's GNP should be woven into economics courses all along the way, beginning with lower division courses. A new generation of economists (among them Herman Daly) has begun to develop a new economic doctrine that can deal with the resource flows of the real world.
(10) Open up the doors and windows of the classrooms. Let the winds of the growing number of thinkers and activists from around the world speak to these centers of education. Allow the dominant world view to be scrutinized, poked at, and let the counter points that I so lacked in my years as CEO of Patagonia through the door. For instance, every CEO and business student should have to sit through the four-minute video The Faceless Ones (Western Canada Wilderness Committee, 20 Water Street, Vancouver BO V6B 1A4; fax 604-683-8229), which presents powerfully and succinctly the essence of the problem we face in creating more sustainability in business.
We always have to start somewhere, and starting small is still starting. At Patagonia we have always considered making hundreds of small improvements the right approach, rather than trying to take a few giant strides. I consider this to be one of the reasons we are on our way to a smaller number of non-sustainable acts.
Kris McDivitt's Reading List
The Arrogance of Humanism,
David Ehrenfeld (Oxford University Press, 1975)
Beginning Again, David Ehrenfeld (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander (Quill, 1978)
In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander (Sierra Club, 1991)
Monocultures of the Mind, Vandana Shiva (Zed, 1993)
Ancient Futures, Helena Norberg-Hodge (Sierra Club, 1991)
Deep Ecology for the 21st Century, George Sessions, Ed. (Shambhala, 1995)
Where the Wasteland Ends, Theodore Roszak (Celestial Arts, 1989)
Education, Cultural Myths, and the Ecological Crisis, C.A. Bowers (SUNY, 1993)
Regarding Nature, Andrew McLaughlin (SUNY Press, 1993)
For the Common Good, Herman Daly and John Cobb (Beacon, 1994)
A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold (Oxford UP, 1981)
The Debt Boomerang, Susan George (Inst. of Policy Studies, 1992)
Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock (Grove-Atlantic, 1992)
The Development Dictionary, Wolfgang Sachs, Ed. (Zed, 1992)
Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich (Harper & Row, 1971)
Entropy, Jeremy Rifkin (Viking, 1980)
The End of Work, Jeremy Rifkin (Tarcher, 1995)
Global Ecology, Wolfgang Sachs (ZED, 1993)
"Four Changes," Gary Snyder (in Turtle Island, New Directions, 1974)
Limits to Growth, Donella Meadows et al. (Universe, 1972)
The End of Nature, Bill McKibben (Random House, 1989)
Technological Society, Jacques Ellul (Random House, 1967)
The Cult of Information, Theodore Roszak (University of California Press, 1994)
Technopoly, Neil Postman (Knopf, 1992)
4. The learning process within corporations
Dialogues with forward-thinking customers
Individual and collective learning
Businesses are increasingly realizing that the challenges of moving toward sustainability require a major reorientation of management skills and attitudes. Oscar Motomura is the founder and CEO of the Amana Key Group in Brazil, which assists both large and small companies and their executives in this process. Originally a consulting group in the area of business strategy, Amana-Key now specializes in business education, generating "knowledge products" for Brazilian executives. After its change of focus in the early eighties, Amana-Key expanded its customer base considerably, and today most of Brazil's largest corporations do business with the group through one or more of its product lines.
Recognizing that the transition to sustainability is arduous, Motomura offers in this chapter a flexible repertoire of techniques that companies and individual executives can benefit from in acquiring the new information, planning techniques, and learning/coaching strategies they need. The chapter concludes with an outline of Amana-Key's Systemic Executive Development Program, which explicitly incorporates the eight ecological principles presented by Fritjof Capra in our introductory chapter.
Increasingly companies have begun to use the kind of techniques suggested by Motomura to embark on radical environmental programs. For example, Södra Cell, a cooperative owned by 30,000 forest land owners in southern Sweden, has decided to produce totally chlorine-free paper. They based their decision on consumer demand, not on scientific proofs. Since the most demanding customers wished to have paper that did not contribute at all to the production and discharge of dioxin, the company fulfilled that wish regardless of the scientific debates.
As soon as the totally chlorine-free paper was introduced, there was a massive demand for it, especially from Germany where almost all customers wanted to switch to the new paper. While American paper companies, such as Georgia Pacific, questioned the justification for chlorine-free paper with scientific arguments, the market swiftly turned toward the new product. Now Södra Cell has set the bench mark case in pulp production, and its competitors have no other option than to follow suit. In fact, the Swedish paper companies today enjoy a competitive edge not only in the sales of their pulp but also in the exports of the corresponding machinery.
Another illustrative case is Canon, the Japanese maker of cameras and photocopiers, which has engraved the principle of sustainability into its research and development policies. Since batteries are always an environmental hazard, Canon is now testing flexible amorphous solar cells to be placed in camera shoulder straps, which could provide energy without affecting the environment.
As metals are difficult to recycle when combined with plastics, all metals have been eliminated from Canon cameras; copiers are being redesigned in such a way that most of their parts can be reused; and all lead has been eliminated because of its well-known toxicity. Canon claims that these steps are only the beginning. This type of leadership is certainly unique and is bound to result in a significant competitive advantage for Canon.
If more and more companies are beginning to embrace the concept of ecological sustainability and to embark on radical environmental programs, this is in no small measure due to educators like Oscar Motomura, who is considered one of Brazil's most innovative strategic thinkers in management. Being able to rely on a wide range of expertise and skills, Motomura combines ecological awareness and a shrewd business sense with a unique ability to put all antagonism aside, and thus is able to guide business toward sustainability at the boardroom level in eminently practical ways.
A textile company changes its industrial processes: it replaces non-ecological chemical supplies with "clean" alternatives and starts to use biophoto-degradable materials in the packaging of its products.
A furniture company decides to use only plantation pine wood in its products in order to help reduce the destruction of rainforests.
A retail organization decides to stop offering its customers products that cannot be considered fully ecologically sound.
From the business standpoint, is it "strategic" to be ecologically correct in these times of changing values? Or is it a burden that can make business endeavors not feasible from an economic point of view (or at least make things harder than they already are)?
Business executives, consultants, academics, specialists, and politicians can spend much time debating that issue - trying to arrive at a "conclusion," a right answer. Nevertheless, from the bottom-line standpoint, that is not an "academic" question. It looks like a typical business decision, involving risk and rewards.
If that assumption is accepted, business concerns have three possible courses of action regarding ecology and sustainability. The first one is to become an ecologically oriented company. It is to "bet" on ecology as an inevitable trend. The rewards will be represented by finer attuning to the new customers' values, thus harvesting better results in the marketplace.
A second course of action is not to become an ecologically oriented company. Or in an even more aggressive bet, to plot strategies to "take advantage" of competitors that are trying to become ecologically sound. The risk here is to be caught in the future by irate consumers and regulators, and to face significant problems in sales, public image, and bottom-line results. The rewards may be represented by higher profits, at least in the short term, if ecology turns out to be just another fad.
A third alternative is to muddle through, to "wait and see." The risk factors here are not entirely different from those for companies of the second group above. Today time is a strategic resource. Ecologically-driven investments have long cycles in many industries and the choice to be a "follower" entails higher risks than presumed by superficial analysis. The rewards of this policy can only be short-term savings and an insignificant effect on long-term results; no actual bet is made in such an approach.
We can, however, approach the issue of ecology from a different standpoint. Our view is that we ought to lead that discussion to a higher level of consciousness, beyond the "bottom line/market share" perspective.
Ecology and sustainability are fundamental issues for life, rather than mere business factors. It is like the discussion of ethics in business. We still have businesspeople arguing that corporations cannot survive if they are to do business ethically or if they fully respect the rights of the consumers or if they are to care for the quality of life of their employees or if they are to contribute to solving community problems.
We all should learn about ecology and sustainability the same way that we should have been educated in ethics and values. In fact, we should go way beyond "literacy." It is our thinking that once businesspeople become fully aware of what deep ecology is all about, the "adjustments" in corporations will be a natural consequence, rather than a "business decision" based on pros and cons.
This chapter, based on our two-decade experience in dealing with the education of senior executives in the areas of management and strategy, suggests some ideas on how businesspeople can be effectively educated on deep ecology and sustainability.
In describing the following five possible educational actions, we try to answer the following question: "How can we make sure that busy, pragmatic, and results-oriented senior executives become better informed and more powerfully aware of deep ecology and sustainability, assuming that a lot of hurdles and resistance will be present in the process?"
Our contribution is to suggest practical ideas for immediate action in five different areas: Dialogues with Forward-Thinking Customers, Adequate Information, Benchmarking, Systemic Planning, and Individual and Collective Learning.
Dialogues with forward-thinking customers
Ecologically demanding customers are good educators. Especially in these highly competitive times, when most companies are trying to become more and more "customer oriented," business executives are required to listen very carefully to their customers. And they must do so at least as attentively as they listen to their own staff, consultants, and the "community," particularly when what those people have to say is apparently disconnected from the endless demands for higher sales and profits that executives have to meet.
Today we can find, in every industry, at least a few "enlightened" customers. People who transcend the traditional business view of the world. People who have broader concerns with what is going on in the society and the planet as a whole. Those are the people who can help to educate top managers. Even the most pragmatic CEO will be sensitive to what those customers - or potential customers - have to say.
A good strategy to make this happen is to promote different sorts of dialogues - one on one or round-table format - between customers and corporate executives. First, these dialogues should include senior executives, including the CEO and the Chief Marketing Executive. Later on, staff specialists and middle management executives/ teams in charge of new products, planning, and marketing/sales should be involved in the same kind of dialogue.
Needless to say, traditional surveys made by consultants or staff people are far away from the main idea here. Direct contact of forward-thinking customers with the company's CEO and senior managers is the key idea. Many times, top managers tend not to be motivated enough to start dialogues with customers. In this case, a good starting point would be to videotape deep interviews with ecologically aware customers. Marketing people are good at doing those kinds of interviews. Those videotaped interviews may help trigger the process, motivating the CEO to start live conversations with forward thinking customers.
Once this process starts, the corporation as a whole will be watching what is going on in the minds of their most demanding customers (usually the "difficult" customers no one wants to deal with or even listen to). The same thing can be done with "non-customers" - former customers or potential new ones.
Listening actively to what customers have to say is a powerful learning process. Since it is already part of traditional business "wisdom," the procedure described above tends to make the insights obtained materialize quickly in the form of effective actions and changes that lead to more ecological processes, products, and management practices. The subtle change here is that instead of receiving statistically treated information on what the whole group of customers is thinking, the CEO effectively talks to forward-thinking ones (the "customers of the future").
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