Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Pendulum Swings

First, today is Election Day so don’t forget to vote.

It’s important, short term, and instantly gratifying in that we will know by the end of the night who has won the rights to f-up this country for the next four years. While we pretend to care about the future of this nation, Election Day serves up a strange reminder that by tomorrow, we will be back to our mundane lives and counting on our politicians to carry out our hopes.

I don’t envy the man who gets the job of flying around in Air Force One for the next four years, he will have to work pretty hard and public disapproval will revolt his hair to gray in no time.

Now, to the lesser exciting world of our long term survivability.

Sure we have had a rough couple of years since Obama came to office with “yes we can.” But you can’t blame that on the man. I would also argue that the “yes we can” sentiment is not entirely lost on those who ARE trying to do something. Advocates advocated, activists acted; industries seem to have responded in good faith.

According to Todd Cort, from GreenBiz.com, “companies today are increasingly aware of sustainability issues and opportunities and actively integrate sustainability into core business strategies and decision-making.”

But, Mr. Cort points out, while companies are “more responsive to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines and other reporting frameworks in an effort to drive comparability” in their sustainability efforts, “they are beginning to lose sight of the why” sustainability matters.

“In 2000, sustainability came dangerously close to "greenwashing." Reporting standards, investors and other stakeholders since have persuaded reporting companies to disclose management approaches, but the pendulum has now swung too far. In 2012, sustainability reporting has become an almost obligatory box-ticking exercise demanded by stakeholders.”

Cort goes on to say a few prudent things about our obligations to look at the big picture; after all, if everyone is building gears for the clock, who will put the clock together?

If the industry is complying with the request from the public to report “key performance indicators, whether they've hit five-year goals, [or] how many women they've hired in the last year,” yet the industry is not really looking at how those performance indicators will fit the global indicator of actual progress, then these check-boxes of performance indicators will have been a waste of time.

I think Mr. Cort is right to call for a closer look at the process inefficiencies in our sustainability efforts:

“After all, reporting affords companies the opportunity to collect data and see the impacts they are having on the planet. They get a chance to streamline their processes as the report brings together initiatives and programs from various business units. They get to set targets, learn through case studies, and find opportunities and risks by just going through the process of putting together this (now) massive report.”

But I would add that the problem industries experience is no different than the one we experience in politics: the attitude of “yes we can” is put on the pedestal for the few who are tokened to make those changes. Industries, and institutions, will hire a “sustainability officer” and then require them to comply with reporting requirements; same thing as giving Obama the job of the presidency and then say: here are the congressional roadblocks—the end objective becomes one and the same, while Obama navigates through the none-sense in politics, the sustainability officer traverses the mountains of corporate ignorance, imprudence, and neglect. At the end of the day, no one wins and the machines march on. Mr. Cort is right to point to the learning opportunity that is inherent in making changes to adapt; I would argue we lack this fundamental appreciation for the becoming of better tomorrow (see my rant on this topic "the human ecology and the process of becoming"). We are so focused on the now that we failed to see what we can become. 

This is politics boys and girls and to an large extent our society in general.

The irony is that we want change, but deep down inside we yearn for stability; while we would like to believe there is a better tomorrow, we'd rather measure our miseries by today's standard. "Yes we can" (do something) is reduced to a melancholy of simply "because we can."

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