In the book ” Collapse“, Jared Diamond outlines 12 major problems which threaten human civilization: destruction of natural habitats, depletion of wild foods (fish, etc), loss of genetic diversity, soil erosion, fossil fuel depletion, shortage of fresh water, the photosynthetic ceiling (100% use of the sun’s energy for human purposes), pollution from toxic chemicals, species transfer, global warming due to human activity, population growth and the rising per-capita impact of population. He goes on to state that “our world society is on a non-sustainable course, and any of our 12 problems of non-sustainability…would suffice to limit our lifestyle within the next several decades. They are like time bombs with fuses of less than 50 years.” No one problem stands out as greater than all of the rest. “If we solved 11 of the problems, but not the 12th, we would still be in trouble, whichever was the problem that remained unsolved. We have to solve them all.”
Big business has had the dubious distinction of taking all of these problems and accelerating them. Corporations aren’t “to blame”, necessarily, because they are simply doing what they were designed to do: convert capital, natural, human or otherwise into something useful for human beings, and to do it in the most efficient way possible. Companies are required by law to be efficient, and they have gotten so good at it that they threaten to destroy the very things they were designed to serve: human beings. It is almost like the movie “Terminator”, where men create machines that begin to operate on their own then turn on their creators.
But, unlike the machines in the movie, corporations cannot survive without people. Even though they are endowed with the rights of people, they cannot exist without people. Therefore, it is in businesses’ interest to forward the interests of mankind as a whole. A world that thrives is one in which business will thrive and, if we are to believe Mr. Diamond, that can only happen if business steps forward and takes on solving ALL of the problems of mankind. We cannot settle for less.
John Recesch, a futurist, writer and former businessman, wrote in his book “Getting to the Better Future” about a proposed agenda for business in the 21st century. In it, he calls for a new paradigm for business, and states that “traditional thinking about the purpose of business maintains the status quo and…transformation can only occur if this thinking and the assumptions underlying it are challenged.” He also goes on to say that “Business is in the best position to lead a transformation, because it has a disproportionate share of influence on the society. With that much control over people’s lives it’s inherent- a natural kind of law – that you’ve got responsibility for it.”
As current and future business-people with a commitment to a sustainable world, we cannot afford to think small – we just don’t have enough time. Each one of us is going to have to go beyond what we know is possible, take on the improbable, and create organizations bring on this business transformation. We can’t just solve one problem or two… we have to solve them all.