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Pay your fair share.
You broke it, you bought it.
Simple enough concepts.
But until recently, natural resource costs and environmental impacts haven’t made it into a business’ bottom line.
Things like: how much do you owe to restore contaminated drinking water sources from your factory’s chemical run-off?
Or: what should you budget to maintain air quality for people who live near your factory?
What’s a forest worth? What’s the value of logging it versus keeping it intact? For whose benefit?
We know how to figure these costs out. It’s called Natural Capital Accounting.
And we really need to start using it. Because we’re running out of Natural Capital left and right. (To be clear, I’m talking about clean air, land and water.)
Greenbiz.com founder Joel Makower lays out the stark realities & challenges ahead here and in the newly released State of Green Business 2013 report.
He has a wowza of a topline finding:
If the global private sector had to pay outright the true cost of their companies’ environmental impacts, it would cut profits by 40 to 50 percent.
Let that one sink in for a second. Half of a company’s profits.
Greenbiz.com contributor Heather Clancy goes over the report in more detail.
Few companies today account in their financial statements for the value of natural capital — resources such as clean water, tillable soil, breathable air and other resources that are often taken for granted or assumed to be free.
But if those costs were tallied globally, the liability would be considerably more than $1 trillion, according to a new index included in the sixth annual State of Green Business report published on Tuesday. Total natural capital costs related to U.S. firms are approximately $351.6 billion.
As an unrepentant optimist, I can’t help seeing the silver lining in this mess.
Natural Capital Accounting gives us a fuller, richer picture of what our actions cost, in terms of dollars, environmental impact, and how our choices hurt or help other people.
I like to believe that when people know better, they do better.
When you can’t afford not to do better, you figure out a way to do better.
Since we must do better, we will.
Dismiss nonconforming facts as irrelevant to your position.
That’s not what Mr. Nocera meant to say in his latest New York Times column, but that’s what I got out of it.
Mr. Nocera holds that we should let the Keystone XL pipeline go through because it won’t make a greasy drop of difference in the Big Picture.
I disagree with Mr. Nocera. For me, and many others, it’s a line in the (tar) sands.
This position is eloquently stated by this New York Times commentor, responding to Mr. Nocera’s Feb. 10 column on the same topic.
You can always argue that a line drawn in the sand is at an arbitrary place, and could be moved back a bit. But a line has to be drawn, and saying no to this pipeline seems a good place. Shifting to cleaner energy will not be painless, and it won’t happen until we either stop using dirty fuels voluntarily or they run out. If we continually find excuses for waiting until they run out, we will leave our descendants a very nasty planet.
I believe it’s in the best interests of our country’s future prosperity and health to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline. For lots of reasons, all well and ably described by Bill McKibben, 350.org and the tens of thousands of people who marched in D.C. this past Sunday.
So rather than rehashing, I’ll put in my $.02 as a communications person.
Mr. Nocera loses credibility in my eyes with two little words: Well, maybe.
The column starts off well enough with the promise of a conversation with climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. When Dr. Hansen finally shows up in the eighth paragraph, Mr. Nocera dismisses the evidence Dr. Hansen brings to the table nonchalantly. Just so.
He said that such a tax could reduce emissions by 30 percent within 10 years. Well, maybe.
That’s like saying, “Stop smoking and you’ll reduce your cancer risks. Well, maybe.”
With that small, dismissive, statement, Mr. Nocera shows his hand.
It says to me that he’s not really open to accounting for all the costs involved, including the true costs of negative environmental impacts.
This commentor, jb smith from Brooklyn, NY put it perfectly:
Mr. Nocera completely overlooks the other environmental impacts of extracting oil from tar sands. Aside from the fact that processing tar sands produces 12 to 14% more carbon emissions than standard oil production, the effects of water pollution and large scale strip mining necessary to process this source are horrendous.
I am sorry Mr. Nocera, you need to be honest on the true environmental costs if you are going to pontificate on this subject. I am sorry, but solving the problem needs a full accounting of the true costs to the long term viability of our planet, and not some anecdotal analysis that glosses over these problems.
That’s the bigger picture. No maybe about it.
I love this idea a million ways to Sunday.
Harvard Business Review blogger Gretchen Rubin writes about the possibilities born from tight spaces:
To make choices about how we will expend the resources we do have available to us, to find cheaper, more nimble ways of doing something as a person – and as a corporation. Our perceived limitations may give us direction on where we might play, or want to play. Indeed, if we will let them, constraints can (and will) drive us to disruption.
When it comes to Sustainability, our constraints are very real.
We exist within a finite set of Planetary Boundaries. Nine of them, in fact.
The Nine Planetary Boundaries, the identification of nine limits that cannot be crossed if humans are to avoid catastrophe, were developed by Johan Rockström et al in a 2011 paper in the Nature journal (and a nod to the Club of Rome’s 1972 Limits to Growth), are now being used as the basis for campaigns and policy work by NGOs such as Forum For the Future and WWF.
General Patton famously said, “Pressure makes diamonds.”
Given our constraints, what will we create?
Global business leader Unilever walks the walk.
If you want to know what a Sustainability leader looks like, sounds like, and acts like, here’s an article for you.
Replete with targets, actions and results. Integrated with the business’ overall strategy.
My favorite part:
The Sustainable Living Plan is our business plan; it is not part of our business plan.
In November 2010, Unilever launched a new strategic business direction in the form of The Sustainable Living Plan, a company-wide initiative to double the size of the business by 2020 while reducing emissions by half in that same time frame.
Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of food, home, and personal care products, with global sales of more than $67 billion in 2012. More than 2 billion people use Unilever’s products on a daily basis. The Sustainable Living Plan encompasses the entire value chain, with Unilever taking responsibility not just for its own direct operations, but also for its suppliers, distributors, and consumers. Underpinning the plan are more than 50 targets.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Take our planet’s climate crisis. Terrifying.
(This from a banker, no less.)
On the bright side, the coming on of wind and solar energy, of smart grids and resilient planning, is exciting.
So how we talk about climate change, energy policy, and everything else in the sustainability conversation, really matters.
As a communications person, this is my job:
Help people understand. So they take action.
Surprisingly (or not, if you’ve been there), the first hurdle is getting everyone on the team working together. Muddled messaging wreaks major havoc.
A new article talks about this very issue.
Adam James at American Progress wrote a thoughtful piece about resolving differences of opinion and approach in the new energy community.
He breaks the problem and solution down into three steps:
1. Get clear about messaging
What can be done? First, separate the communications debate from the policy debate, and try to have a real conversation about the merits of each messaging approach given the outcomes we are trying to achieve.
2. Get clear about messages
Second, discuss the policy agenda outside the context of this conversation about messaging, to isolate the items where there is substantial agreement.
3. Rally around agreement
Third, galvanize around the agenda items where there is significant agreement, and push for those policies based on whatever strategy can be salvaged out of the communications discussion.
As an illustration of the above in action, I’d probably swap the first two points (#1). So the message drives messaging (#2). But that’s just a quibble (#3).
I firmly believe that when people know better, they do better. As a messenger, it’s my job to help that happen.
Time to stand up for the S-word.
Most people I talk to still don’t know what this word means. I have to say, “Like green. But bigger. Everything a company or community does to stop messing up the planet.”
That generally makes the light bulb go on. In my experience, there is still a pretty low awareness of Sustainability as a profitable business approach.
So we know there’s a gap in understanding. That’s why there is real, honest debate about the S-Word in the corporate and environmental communities.
Like this: Joel Makower’s Why Sustainability Execs Should Shun the S-Word
And this: Matt Polsky’s Do We Still Need the S-Word?
And even the “let’s come up with something better”: Kathrin Winkler’s An idea for 2013: Crowdsourcing Sustainability
For myself, I land on the S-word side. Sustainability is a perfectly good word.
Imperfect, perhaps, in explaining the full spectrum of doing right the right things for people, profits and the planet. But generally positive and moving in the right direction.
Which is why it makes me nuts when a political group grabs hold and twists it into something else.
Get this. The major of Provo, Utah, John Curtis, has acquiesced to Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists’ concerns and said he won’t use the S-word anymore.
(KUTV) Tonight the mayor of a Utah County city is editing his words after accusations that Provo might be under the control of a sinister plan by the United Nations to take over the world.
Mayor John Curtis wrote a blog, mostly tongue in cheek, saying he will no longer use the word “sustainable” when talking about the city’s budget
When Curtis says sustainable budget he says it means not spending more money than the city has. But there is a world out there, lead primarily by glen beck who says sustainability is just a code word for a United Nations environmental scheme to take over the world by eliminating property rights. The program is known as Agenda 21.
Curtis was perplexed by accusations of Agenda 21 agents infiltrating Provo and he says many residents have told the mayor to watch his back.
Curtis began researching Agenda 21 and he stumbled upon a list of 100 words to watch for to see if your city council is under UN control and at the top of the list is sustainability. The list contains many other words city governments use all the time.
Curtis says Provo leaders are only influenced by Provo voters but sometimes he says getting some people to believe him isn’t always sustainable.
“The moment you tell them you don’t have to worry about Agenda 21,” Curtis says, “they worry about agenda 21.”
Mayor Curtis seems to have his sense of humor intact and his priorities straight. In essence, he’s saying: Fine. You don’t like me using a certain word because for you it has connections to a conspiracy theory? Then I won’t use it. Problem solved. Now on to the People’s Business.
He says as much on his blog.
Merriam-Websterdefines sustainability as “using a resource so that the resource is not depleted.” For three years we have been using the word sustainable in reference to our budget. The intent is that we want a budget that is based on principles that endure. In other words, if our budget is sustainable we are not spending more than our revenue. I know what your thinking – government never worries about how it spends its money. Right?I’ve sadly learned coming into elected office that too often elected officials spend money they don’t have. It’s the easy thing to do to kick the can down the road and let the next group of elected officials deal with problems. One of the aspects I admire most about our City Council members is that they get it. They are willing to make the hard decisions today to protect the fiscal future of our City.None of that has changed but I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to have a better name. I could live with the fact that some thought of the green movement when they heard us use the term “sustainability” but now something called Agenda 21 is convincing people that the word is evil and that anyone who uses it is working with the United Nations to overthrow civilization as we know it! (cue the Darth Vader music) If this is the case, they’re really good because no UN official has EVER contacted me – very stealth!So if you hear I’m in league with the United Nations to destroy Provo because I use the term “sustainability” you’ll likely first scratch your head and then understand why I think I need to find a better word to describe our efforts.
Mayor Curtis is quite rightly (in my book) using Sustainable to mean governing sensibly for the City’s fiscal future.
So the problem here isn’t with the word. The problem is with the people who are twisting it.
I suspect that Mayor Curtis is doing a bit of face-saving here. I admire and respect Mayor Curtis’ attempt to thread the needle. If it makes people happy that he won’t use “that word,” and it means he can get on with running the city, that seems fair enough.
But when we appease bullies, they keep pushing. Don’t be surprised if they come back and tell you there’s another word you can’t use. I’m not worried at all about Mayor Curtis. He seems more than up for the challenge.