The goal of this post is to make the point that corporations are one of our greatest assets in moving towards a sustainable future. There are two points that I propose to support this point:
1. Corporations represent a remarkable platform for the industrial capacity that is required to create the materials necessary for renewable energy systems.
2. Corporations represent a remarkable asset in terms of human knowledge and skills.
The following data points are compelling arguments that I have gathered from the recent work of Saul Griffith:
1. If an aluminum can producer redirected their production of 110 billion cans in a year to the production of solar thermal surfaces, they could create 200 GW of energy.
2. Nokia produces 9 phones every second. Again, that’s, 9 phones in a single second. Imagine if that production capacity was redirected to the manufacturing of solar panels?
3. GM manufactures one drivetrain every minute and one complete car every two minutes. Imagine if this production capacity was redirected to the production of wind turbines? This production capacity represents the ability to provide enough wind turbines to generate 2 TW of energy.
What will our future look like if the sustainability movement does not embrace corporations as partners? Where will the large-scale production capacity come from to create the materials that are required? Where will the brain-power to engineer the necessary innovations come from? Where will the financial acumen to determine how to make sustainability profitable come from?
Certainly, progress on these fronts can me made without the contributions of corporations. I feel strongly that we should look to the academic community, small business thought leaders, home garage hobbyists and inspired entrepreneurs for leadership in sustainability initiatives. However, I would argue that without embracing corporations as partners in sustainability and encouraging them to become a part of the solution, sustainability initiatives will not have the broad reaching, global impact that is required to solve the immediate environmental crisis and to build the foundation for a sustainable future to support our growing human population on Earth.
Commonly, I find that social and environmental practitioners expend too much energy arguing the faults of large corporations. Within the community of sustainability practitioners, I think the challenge lies not in articulating our thoughts on the poor practices of corporations. In fact, I find that to be an easily made argument that practitioners should move beyond. Instead, I feel that the challenge lies in finding the personal ability articulate the opportunities through which corporate assets can be leveraged to contribute meaningful solutions to our current and future environmental and social needs.