Where the Future of Business Is Coming From

I have just come home from a short visit to Ann Arbor to speak at an event sponsored by the Net Impact group at the Ross School of Business. They had asked me to speak at the dinner kicking off their Forum 2009: Next practices to address future challenges. In their own words, “Net Impact is a global network of leaders who are changing the world through business.” I also had some time to spend in a small group with some of the students. Many are in a very special program (Erb Institute) that couples an MBA with a MS from the School of Natural Resources and Environment. My keynote… Read More

Continue Reading

A Friend, Indeed?

This story is from today’s New York Times. I encourage you to read the whole article. But here is the part that woke me up today. Facebook, the very popular social networking program, has spawned some new language–defriending or unfriending. It has become so easy to accumulate a very long list of facebook friends that paring down that list has become a social puzzle. Burger King saw an opportunity to attract business by offering a free Whopper™ to anyone that got rid of 10 friends by deleting them from the list. If Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, what might he have done faced with this offer?… Read More

Continue Reading

Waste Not, Want Not

The NYTimes had a long story in the Sunday Business section about Wal-Mart and their green initiatives. The lede was all about the history behind Wal-Mart’s decision to “go green.” By going green, the company committed itself not only to putting products with lower footprints on the shelf but also to building the shelves themselves (and their stores in general) in a greener manner. While undoubtedly helpful in reducing the environmental load relative to the past, the impact of Wal-Mart and their program is not entirely clear. Responding to advocacy groups, and with the leadership of the then CEO, H. Lee Scott, they drank the green Kool-Aid. In came the… Read More

Continue Reading

Not for the Faint-at-heart

I came across a paper written a couple of years ago that makes very interesting reading. Collapse and Transformation , by D. M. Taylor and G. M Taylor is a not quite apocalyptic, but very close, rendering of the future we face. There are only three possibilities for the future of civilization: (a) Cascading environmental crises will rapidly escalate, producing uncontrollable economic and political crises. At some point these crises will cause the catastrophic collapse of the societal system. This process may produce irreversible damage to social and biophysical systems. (b) Political and business leaders will proactively respond to the growing crises through supporting environmentally friendly technologies, introducing policies for… Read More

Continue Reading

Sustainability MBAs

I’m away from home for a few days visiting one of the very few business schools committed entirely to creating MBA’s with sustainability as their core learning. Bainbridge Graduate Institute is now in its fifth year. I’ve been working with them from their start with a few years off. But I am back here during one of their weekend intensives. The program is based largely on distance learning plus a set of face-to-face weekends. I am here to talk about sustainability in general and pair with my colleague, Tom Johnson, to teach a couple sessions of their sustainable operations course. I met Tom here some years ago and have learned… Read More

Continue Reading

Post-Inauguration Thoughts

I watched the formal part of the inauguration ceremonies at the Lexington Library where a happy group gathered around a large screen. After the formalities, anyone that so desired added a one-minute request or suggestion to a videotape that was to be sent to the new President. Lexington is where the first shots for freedom were fired. I had an uncanny sensation that I was hearing a modern version of the first shots, but aimed at new targets. What did all this have to do with sustainability? I believe a great deal. Sustainability is always, first, a possibility of realizing something good. In the broadest sense, as I develop in… Read More

Continue Reading

Pragmatism in the White House

David Brooks’ Inauguration Day column focuses on the ideological past that has so dominated government for the last 60 to 70 years. He hopes that what many expect will be a strong pragmatic framework in the Obama White House will return balance to the American political scene. Part of that will be done with his governing style. Obama aims to realize the end-of-ideology politics that Daniel Bell and others glimpsed in the early 1960s. He sees himself as a pragmatist, an empiricist. Politics is not personal with him. He does not turn political disagreements into a status contest between one kind of person and another. He is convinced that most… Read More

Continue Reading

What’s the Aim of Sustainable X?

In my last post, I define sustainability in a generic sense as the possibility of system to continue to deliver some desired outputs over a long time period. Sustainability defined this way is a noun connoting possibility, not any thing. I notice that I occasionally slip into using “ability” instead of “possibility.” Possibility is the better choice because ability suggests that we know how the system works and can describe what it can do. Complexity means that we cannot do this as a rule. In a limited sense, perhaps we can as long as the system is very near a stable point, but we lose our ability to predict the… Read More

Continue Reading

Pre-inauguration Thoughts

Today is the last day of the Bush Administration. There has been enough said about the state of the world he has left. It seems to me that sustainability, while spoken about at a much higher level than eight years ago, is much further away. Its distance is a consequence of very bad policies that continue to see the world as a resource to be plundered and managed for the benefit of those with the means to exploit it. But it is also the result of the models used to think about and act toward the problems we face. This administration has been, perhaps, the most ideological in my lifetime.… Read More

Continue Reading

He Raised the Ecological Ante

Arne Naess, who created the concept of deep ecology, passed away at the age of 96. Dot Earth has a summary of comments on his death. His views fueled some of the more radical environmental groups, but also created a serious dialogue among mainstream environmental thinkers. He was Norway’s leading philosopher. His ecological philosophy was influential in shaping my early writings about sustainability.

Continue Reading