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The Declaration
Gil Friend, 17 Apr 05

Gil Friend is a systems ecologist and business strategist, and is the CEO of Natural Logic, an environmentally-focused strategy, design and management consultancy. He writes occasional essays on sustainable business for our Sustainability Sunday feature.

As requested, here are more details about the Sustainable Business - Declaration of Leadership:

The Declaration is a clear statement of what it means to run a sustainable company. Nothing listed is outrageous or radical, yet as a whole it describes an outlook on business which would be revolutionary if -- when -- widely adopted. I look forward to Gil giving us more details about the Declaration in an upcoming Sustainability Sundays post, and over at his own weblog.

Here goes.

The genesis: StopWaste.Org is an Alameda County (California) agency funded by ladfill tipping fees and charged with reducing waste to landfills. StopWaste (originally under the mouth numbing name of the Alameda County Waste Management and Recycling Board) has developed a host of service delivery and educational programs aimed at residents, local governments, business and (most recently) builders and developers.

We've been working for several years with StopWaste's business services program, providing direct eco-efificency assistance to a wide range of businesses. As the program evolved from a focus on recycling to waste prevention, and more recently to sustainability, Program Manager Rory Bakke asked us to help define the landscape with a "vision statement".

This "vision" seed sprouted as the Declaration just two weeks ago. While I was preparing my Commonwealth Club speech on Risk, Fiduciary Responsibility and the Laws of Nature - and as the level of provocation that I was planning to offer continued to rise - Jane Byrd (wife, board member and muse) suggested that I consider presenting a 'broadside' leave-behind. The vision statement was the perfect candidate. (We plan to have streaming audio of the speech up this week -- as soon as we learn how to do that. :-)

The challenge:

But as I worked with it, I realized that it wasn't a "vision" - an image of "what the world could be" - but what my esteemed colleague Chauncey Bell would call a "linguistic act" -- speech that is in itself an action. ("I walked to the store" is speech as a description of action. "I promise to go to the store" is speech as the action -- the promise - in itself.)

It's actually a series of them:

Mine: A challenge -- formally, a "request" -- to companies and their leaders to declare themselves committed to massive, not merely incremental, change in the way we do business on this 8000 mile diameter chip of rock that we're riding together as it goes hurtling through space.

Theirs (yours?): To make the committment to think, speak, act -- and evaluate results -- consistent with the requirements of "the regenerative capacity of the living systems that sustain human culture and economy."

Here's that challenge (printed on the back of the poster) in full:

The purpose of this document: to challenge already good companies, developers, designers and public authorities to an even higher level of thinking, aspiration and performance. [1] The sustainable business phenomenon is taking deeper root. But many who've been laboring in the vineyards for the past few decades have been wondering whether there's a fundamental problem remaining: all too much of the effort from business, government and NGOs has focused on mitigating the problem, making things less bad, slowing the rate of decline of the regenerative capacity of the living systems that sustain human culture and economy. Bill McDonough offers the simple and compelling metaphor of merely slowing down a car that's going in the wrong direction, instead of turning it around. Frank Dixon of Innovest Strategic Value Advisors has called for raising the bar from "corporate social responsibility" to "total corporate responsibility - focused on promoting system changes that hold firms fully responsible." [2]

John Ehrenfeld, MIT professor and industrial ecology leader, questions the conventional approach to sustainable development: "Creating true sustainability," he argues in a recent Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) Journal article, "requires radical solutions, not quick fixes, [beginning] by examining our own behaviors and assumptions regarding consumption, personal satisfaction, and technology."[3]

This Declaration is my contribution to that discussion - my stake in the ground. Commissioned by StopWaste.Org, and guided by the new California Sustainable Business Council, it's intentionally both spare and provocative. Every phrase in it could be further explained, justified, specified, documented and exampled - but those details are not what we've lacked. We've lacked the will to face reality, tell the truth about what we see, and do what we know needs to be done.

So consider: how does this Declaration compare with your organization's vision - and its reality - in these key dimensions of business and sustainability:

* Are you just putting band-aids on environmental and social problems, or are you making substantive contributions to solving them?

* Are you leaving money on the table, or are you systematically building value for your company and its stakeholders?

I hope you'll use this Declaration to stimulate fruitful discussions about whether your company is taking the challenge and the opportunity seriously - and creatively - enough.

Please send me your comments and suggestions, at "leadership at natlogic dot com" - and invite me to engage your organization in a powerful conversation about aspiration, innovation and profitable implementation.

Thank you,
Gil Friend CEO
Natural Logic Inc.

1. See also: "How High the Moon: The challenge of 'sufficient' goals," at http://www.NatLogic.com/resources/nbl/v13/n03.html

2. See http://www.greenbiz.com/news/columns_third.cfm?NewsID=26612

3. See http://www.solonline.org/reflections/browse

Next steps:

The Declaration is now posted at its own web site -- DeclarationOfLeadership.com -- where it's available as a free download (100k PDF), or for purchase as an 11x17, suitable for framing, totally eco-groovy, print on demand hard copy poster. (eCommerce will go live today or tomorrow; opportunities to endorse and discuss, and other site enhancements, will follow shortly.)

We're just beginning to circulate the Declaration, and use it to invite business and sustainability leaders to consider how this Declaration compares with their organization's vision - and its reality - in these key dimensions of business and sustainability:

  • Are you just putting band-aids on environmental and social problems, or are you making substantive contributions to solving them?

  • Are you leaving money on the table, or are you systematically building value for your company and its stakeholders?

    Initial response has been extremely encouraging.

    "A potent catalyst for change. Required reading" - Joel Makower, greenbiz.com

    "The gut check that companies need right now." - Christine Arena, Author, Cause for Success

    "Congratulations. The first comprehensive check-off that directs commerce to planet-saving." - Paul Hawken, Natural Capital Institute

    We look forward to hearing what you do with it.

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    Comments

    We in Cascadia are standing on the work of Ingham (soilfoodweb.com), Stamets (fungi.com), and Savory (holisticmanagement.org) in offering our crafts of brewing compost teas for the outer world and fermenting foods for our inner ecologies, giving us the "guts" to get thru this all.

    We invite you to visit our site and consider using the very basic technologies described therein .

    Thank you and to WorldChanging for gathering this all together.


    Posted by: Kim McDodge on 18 Apr 05



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