Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time is running out!

According to many, including Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation for Nike, time is running out for our capacity to sustain ourselves. We are at a tipping point and unless immediate actions are taken, we slid down a domino of events that will eventually lead to Kaa-Boom.

On the other hand, effective publicity has created a cloud in global warming and casts doubts on the state of our sustainability crisis. The basis of their denial presumes perpetual persistence, of which I find wholly inconsistent with my views. Yet I can sympathize with their strong convictions; a healthy dose of skepticism sustains the motivation to achieve and is a good thing for activists – it keeps our hearts pounding.

How do we reconcile the two? Where is the middle point of progressive compromise for us to speak a common language and move with a sense of purpose? In the military, they call this “shoot, move, communicate”; orders of action necessitated by the situation of course, but no reason why we can’t communicate, shoot and move together?

Often we find ourselves instinctively defensive when it comes to ideologies. When confronted with the opposite view, we gather all of our reasoning capabilities, full of gaps and holes of actual knowledge, and get red-faced enough to cite numbers of dead babies or surviving polar bears. Some manage to smile and refer to books and researchers and humbly agree to disagree, but even those who are willfully helpful and point to various research often speak to deaf ears. Anyone can cite to equally large amount of data showing positive progress and over assumption of risk. The ideological opposites are just that, necessarily so for the health of an intellectual eco-system; diversity of ideas promotes health growth; but disconnected diversity creates ideal environment for discrimination and violence – retarded progress.

How does social growth occur? If all of us are citing data, what progress have we made? What can we do with our equally convincing data on issues of the environment, of people’s equal access to rights, obligations, and remedies, of economic growth to sustain the future generations?

According to Jones,

In order to accelerate sustainable solutions at a rate that will make a meaningful impact, we need to start addressing problems on a system-wide level and executing them on a larger scale . . . .

[T]the world is at a tipping point. In order to address the complex global problems we are confronting, we must start to accelerate the pace of change. Society is on the brink, teetering between an outdated paradigm and a new, innovative future . . . .

“[R]etrofitting the past is a very different strategy with very different outcomes than innovating for the future.”

Jones gave us three things we can do to move together and advance our human experience in a positive direction.

1. Reframe the Narrative of the Story

Instead of focusing narrowly on initiatives – like environmental sustainability, philanthropy, or cause marketing – [we] need to reframe the discussion more broadly around opportunity, innovation, and growth. Instead of benchmarking sustainability initiatives against the competition, [we] need to measure progress against what’s possible. Before [we] can start to move toward a radically different future for [ourselves], [we] must define what that future might look like . . . .

2. Redefine Innovation

Sustainability is the world’s innovation challenge. If sustainability continues to be positioned as a values-based initiative, we will never have an incentive to really push the boundaries of what we can do. This is our “equal amass data” problem; if we are always basing our values for the future based on our present understandings of an incomplete set of data, we will never make progress; we simply continue to tweak the status quo. Instead of making sustainability about “doing good,” we need to make sustainability about innovation and think creatively about how to render the status quo obsolete. The goal isn’t to make today’s world “less bad” but to make the industrial revolution completely obsolete. According to Jones, one way to do this is by merging the sustainability agenda with the innovation agenda, as Nike has done, and essentially make the two concepts synonymous.

3. Obsess Scale

We must acknowledge the urgency of our knowledge. The current debate is fractured amongst environmental issues, human rights issues, corporate corruption and responsibility issues. Because of this fracture, the “sustainability movement is in jeopardy of failing to take the solutions it’s created to scale.”

The clock is ticking. The urgency of the challenge is significant. But, the models have been created. The solutions exist. The question is, how can we take them from start-up mode to mainstream? How can we spread the technology fast enough so that it starts to have a visible impact?

To address the scale problem, Nike issued a challenge “by creating new innovation models based on collaboration and transparency that are designed to speed up the pace of learning and increase the scale of change.” I would add on a personal level, whichever ideological views you come from, you ought to find some aggrievance you may have with human rights violations, environmental irresponsibility, or economical inefficiencies and fraudulence. Concur on common grounds with the people of an opposite ideological belief and act to make progress, act to innovate. 

Last year Nike launched GreenXChange, which fosters the proliferation of sustainable innovations by reducing the cost of licensing and helping companies share their IP.

Nike has also made its Environmental Apparel Design Tool publicly available.

By sharing the knowledge and technology it’s developed with other companies – including its competitors – Nike is scaling its sustainable innovations. Nike asks How can other companies use innovation and collaboration to take sustainable solutions to scale? What other companies are already doing so?

From my own research, I believe Pepsi is very active in pursuing sustainability goals. I see this trend growing, and rendering our “equally amass data” problem obsolete.

A personal challenge to the consumer base that drives companies like Nike and Pepsi is what can we do to employ these principles in our daily lives? The next time you are confronted with views wholly opposite and repulsive, keep this in mind: "what can I do for my planet with this person coming from such harsh views?"


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