The Weekender: Second Thoughts on Whether Business Can Save the World
The Weekender features a longer form publication or multimedia production from a reputable source. We select articles or things to watch or listen to that discuss issues and opportunities we deem just off the radar for many business people, students, and faculty. We aim to expand the mind, broaden the heart, and sharpen the analysis. Have a great Sunday.
I came upon Peter Dauvergne's work from a book he work with Jane Lister Eco-Business: A Big Brand Takeover of Sustainability. I have long believed in the counterintuitive spirit of a sign that Sargeant Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps, had above his office: "Bring me bad news. Good news weakens me."
I have learned that, whatever your field or beliefs, the contrarian view (Shrivers' "bad news") can often awaken you to new insights, pinpoint biases, and lead to clearer, more honest thinking. And so...here I am a proponent of "sustainable business" entertaining the contrarian view that it all might be corporate greed masquerading in new clothes.
Peter has another book I just learned about, Environmentalism of the Rich. I offer a short summary below as a likely uncomfortable jolt to the business school house party (of which I am a leading DJ) that is preaching that we can....(insert your favorite cliches): "do well by doing good"; "drive business value while protecting the environment"; and other rhetorical slights of hand like: "business is the only mechanism powerful enough to resolve global environmental and social crises."
Ultimately, we are an institution of higher education which upholds critical thinking and the scientific method. Peter and other observers suggest we take a deeper look into the motivations and outcomes of "sustainable business." I will continue to be a proponent, although perhaps now a more somber one.
This is a brief review of a book by Peter Dauvergne, a professor at the University of British Columbia.
"In his new book Environmentalism of the Rich, Dauvergne paints a portrait of consumers in wealthy Western countries complacently purchasing their way to sustainability by swapping out old, inefficient products for new, smarter “eco” ones, or taking small steps to reduce energy and water consumption and carbon pollution. The idea promoted by many companies and non-profits is that consumers can continue to buy away if the products are “green.” They can feel as if they are making a difference by making small, not-too-painful adjustments, which will together create larger global impacts one day."
"Dauvergne’s critique is a harsh one but one worth considering. He states: 'sustainability policies of governments and corporations may pay lip service to principles of ecology, but the underlying reason is almost always ahistorical, fragmentary, and linear, rarely integrating holistic or dynamic understandings of resilience, feedback loops, tipping points, and complex systems.'"
Bonus material...interview with Peter Dauvergne about Eco-Business (2013). Below and on YouTube.