By Martin Melaver
Monaco on a Friday night. Lamborghinis parked like cheap Vespas in front of the casino, cruise-boat tourists gawking and taking snaps of anything that comes or goes, but especially balding, graying, paunch-expanding silk suits with young long-legged things draped on them. And in the casino itself, and I’m talking about the cheap rooms of the casino, the ones the tourists play in just for later bragging rights, there are 200,000 Euro chips on the tables (that’s $350,000 in chump change by the way). The private gaming rooms beyond, the ones where you need to know someone and be someone or have enough so that knowing doesn’t matter – who knows what the max chip tops out at. If you have to ask you can’t afford it anyway, right?
What the hell am I doing here? Ain’t no Daniel Craig-cum-James Bond insouciant mojo draped around my shoulders, that’s for sure.
Actually, what I’m doing is preparing to give the commencement talk at the International University of Monaco, a business-school program that, like its elegant setting, specializes in luxury goods and services. And the school, if you can believe it, is very interested in sustainability.
What in the hell do you say to an audience like this?
The way I rationalized it was this. Global impacts are dependent upon three variables: our population (P), the degree to which the affluence of this population leads to consumption (A), and the level of technological inefficiency which fosters consumption (T). It’s a well-known formula: I = P x A x T. Monaco, clearly, was not going to be contributing much over the decades to come to population growth, despite Prince Albert’s multiple indiscretions. As for the T, technological innovation wasn’t much of a force here. But talk about having a major role to play in shaping our behavioral patterns regarding consumption! If we could somehow initiate a sea-change in the minds (not to mention hearts) of the movers and shakers of those involved in luxury goods and services, that could be transforming.
And so the proposition I put before the graduating class of the International University of Monaco was pretty simple and straightforward. Here was a new website our company had set up that its students and faculty could be the promulgators of: Earth TLC. It’s a manifesto – all about entering into a Joint Venture partnership with Planet Earth. (The TLC stands for Total Liability Corporation although the “tender loving care” allusion is clearly there). Sign on, share it with others, use it to transform the entire curriculum of IUM, take it with you in your professional career. Where better than the heart of ultra and outré consumerism to promote an ethos of stewardship? Ironic? Quixotic? Fitting? Who knew.
Here was the charge:
You are invited to brand you class, maybe your school, as first-movers of a new type of joint venture. Perhaps your school, IUM, uses this to rebrand your parent group, the INSEEC group. Or to rebrand its parent organization CEC. Or even rebrand Monaco itself. It starts with your class. You get to “own” it. To be the first to adopt the set of affirmations you find on this site. You are invited to be the first to send it along to others. . . . You are invited to be at the vanguard of a new global leadership. As Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop once said: “If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” Frankly, I have no idea how this all will play out. It may go viral. Or it may fall flat. I’m willing to take that gamble.
Fast-forward two months and I’m still waiting to see that gamble pay off. Maybe it needs a wider audience such as this one. Maybe it is too crazy to expect an ethics of consumption to emanate from that portion of our society most prone to excess. Maybe I would have better luck with one of those 200,000 Euro poker chips.
Martin Melaver is a principal and founder of Melaver McIntosh, a sustainable development and consulting firm focused on transformative approaches to regenerating communities and businesses. He is the author of Living Above the Store: Building a Business That Creates Value, Inspires Change, and Restores Land and Community, foreword by Ray Anderson.