In the age of financial meltdown, does sustainability matter?

meltdown.jpgI was in the UK at a CIO workshop last week (post coming up), and missed a lot of the on -going maneuvering on the part of both political parties here in the US. It made me think about sustainability market drivers (again; yes, I need a life…), and whether we have turned the corner from sustainability as a ‘vitamin’ (nice to have), or an ‘aspirin’ (critical need).
Right now, I would guess that most people (consumers) and many corporations are focusing on very tactical and survival -based activities, such as cost control and risk / exposure management. Where sustainability programs are already established, there is probably little impact from the financial crisis, in terms of potential termination, cancellation, etc.
But where sustainability initiatives are being considered or reviewed, I would venture that many will be put on hold for the time being, as corporations sort through on – going programs and rank and prioritize those that are truly ‘mission critical’ for short term goals.
But there may be a silver lining.

One could say that the current populism will engender more awareness of social impacts associated with current and projected modes of doing business. That could feed into more interest in sustainability as the template of conducting business: doing what is right (do no evil?), taking care of your employees and those who are affected / involved in your business, and developing strategy & inititiaves for promoting long term viability.
Another potential benefit: whoever becomes president, there is no doubt (in my mind) that we are entering a new age of regulatory oversight. I believe that the ‘wave’ of rule – making for the financial markets will spill over to other industries / sectors, and will include new environmental and social metrics.
Some may see additional regulation as anathema to the overall concept of sustainability, but as I have posted before on crisis management (link), sustainability will not be adopted by the majority of corporations until such time that: they have to incorporate programs to be competitive; or, they have to comply with new regulations. Indeed, if you view the UK and Europe, sustainability adoption is due to stringent new rules in building design & construction, consumer product design, and waste recycling; all driving much more awareness (and acceptance) in the local populations.
There. Anybody feel better about the current mess we are in?
This post originally appeared here. Scott Boutwell is a management consultant and former AEC executive from Oracle and URS Corporation; providing tech commercialization, M&A advisory, and market strategy services to cleantech, sustainability, and global AEC firms. His blog covers anecdotes and growth strategies in the engineering design and sustainability sectors. Scott can be reached at

5 responses

  1. Greetings!
    The National Wildlife Federation recently finished a send-a-letter-to-the-EPA widget and Facebook application that sends an official message to the Environmental Protection Agency urging them to recognize the impact greenhouse gases are having on our planet. We’re trying to drum-up up some support for their cause. If you’re so inclined, we’d appreciate a link to either application or simply spread the word! Thanks so much!
    Facebook Application:

  2. The present financial crisis is, among others, a testament to the capacity of corporations and regulators alike to be oblivious of risk, unable to perceive risk or organize to manage risk
    It may be slightly optimistic or simplistic to believe that the same political and economic systems are any better equipped to assess environmental, climatic risk or integrate risk into a sustainability framework.

  3. Do we chose to engage in a “Race to the Bottom” or Sustainable Practices that will rebuild America.
    Two Points:
    Manufacture in America
    Energy Independence
    Let’s get to work… we are the one’s

  4. We Told You So…

    “Amid all the bad news and demands being placed on the President-elect Obama transition team prior to his inauguration, SLDI offered a reason to hope for the future by formally submitting its offer of assistance to help boost the team’s economic recovery plan and policy agenda – and save the country billions in the process. Unfortunately, the politics of money has continued to rule Washington and little has been done to improve our dire circumstance.”

    12-31-08 proposal by
    Sustainable Land Development Initiative

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