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Pamela  Neronha headshot

Entrepreneurs, Nature and the Business Case for Sustainability

By Pamela Neronha

According to environmental ethics and philosophy, one of the sixteen principles of life is life tends to optimize rather than maximize. To “optimize” means to strike a balance between having or doing too much and having or doing too little. To “maximize” means not to balance an action or an outcome. It means to achieve the greatest gain without necessarily considering the costs, which could of course be negative. Or the costs could be positive, with the outcome being that there would not be balance or optimization. Environmental systems or ecosystems have multiple variables that interplay to produce tremendous biodiversity on this planet. Life in the natural world, when in balance, has a tendency toward optimization rather than maximization. This allows for flexibility and for adaptation of any one variable when the inevitable changes in an ecosystem occur.

Although humans are certainly a part of and a product of the natural world, we clearly can no longer be considered a “part” of nature since we do not generally desire optimization, but rather maximization. With our tools, our chemicals, our means of transportation, and especially our powers of reason and research, we have long become a force separate from nature in many respects.

As an entrepreneur and human interloper in the natural world, the five most important needs in my life are first - adequate sleep, silence, and stillness in the form of deep reflection or meditation. Second – the ability to move, specifically to run and then swim in water to refresh and cool my body while rinsing the dirt from the trail off my limbs. Third – being present in nature daily, or simply to be outdoors feeling the warmth of the sun, while sensing and appreciating the presence of a breeze. Fourth – being personally intellectually challenged through meaningful, productive work or study. Finally, to have a sense of balance, calmness, and inner stillness while the changes that are inevitable in life ebb and flow.

The time devoted to running and or swimming (until the lake cools in mid-October) is one to three hours every day. For merely attempting to be outdoors and not confined in a building, I devote between two and four hours every day. The sense of balance in life that comes in part from obtaining inner peace takes awareness and daily practice; time devoted to this is ongoing - hour by hour. As an entrepreneur striving to think creatively and to solve “sticky” problems related to human and ecosystem sustainability, I find that the time I spend in nature helps guide me in making the business case for sustainability for my company. Sustainability implies a balance between social, environmental, and economic imperatives; without constant exposure to natural environments I cannot imagine truly engaging with the possible outcomes and challenges inherent in entrepreneurship. All three components – people, planet, and profit – must be optimized to ensure sustainable growth through systematic feedback loops.  

Being in nature, whether one is active or just sitting, has a way of illuminating the dichotomy and tensions between optimizing and maximizing business efforts. Goals may be set from a logical perspective yet being in nature softens the rhetoric while also preparing an initiative for maximum impact. It comes from welding nature’s optimization and human’s tendency to maximize. It is so pleasant to just “be” in nature. If I choose to just sit here, I can contemplate the value of this place. It is peace personified. It is itself without being outwardly demonstrative. Why am I just sitting? In the natural world, this world in which I now sit contemplatively, no goals are being set – or so it seems. Does the ant have a goal to dig a deeper burrow, to gather more grasses for its winter den? Does the coyote have a goal beyond finding the quickest, easiest route to the shore of the lake for a drink of water? Do the first small flocks of Canada geese that have just arrived this week for the winter have a goal? I spend most of my days here – in the water and running around the shoreline. I have immersed myself in it; in the cool hours of early morning and in the evening at sunset. I let this place be by itself during the heat of the day. At some point, rain will bring a refreshing take on the life that lives here. It seems we not only physically thirst, but thirst for renewal of the soul, of the heart. This renewal is here, in nature.

Some of the most important issues facing the world today include the following: First – from the standpoint of health and human mortality rates, access to adequate potable water and sanitation. Second – air and water pollution and the resulting imbalance in the utilization and productivity of resources worldwide, leading to poverty and destitution in some countries. Third – acts of genocide, war, and violence of all kinds; and finally – access to education at the most basic level for all human beings, which facilitates self-reliance and an intimate knowledge of man’s relation to our natural world and its, and our, finite existence.

These four challenges illustrate how intimately bound we as humans are to the natural world and to the planet that supports us. As the world’s population grows, and imbalances in wealth, health, and resources increase, two stresses will be evident: the impact on the world’s human population and the impact on the planet itself. Making the business case for sustainability in all that we do to mitigate and solve these challenges requires we learn to live in harmony with our planet and with each other. Physical, mental, and spiritual health on an individual level leads to inner peace and balance. Spending time in nature daily will promote that balance.

Image credit: Adam Kool/Unsplash

Pamela  Neronha headshot

Pamela A. Neronha, MPA is founder and CEO of Pluvion, Inc. She is an MBA in Sustainable Solutions candidate at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, and a former Grade 3-certified operator of drinking water and wastewater treatment plants in California. In 2006 she won the Water Environment Federation’s William D. Hatfield Award for excellence and professionalism in the operation of wastewater treatment plants.

Read more stories by Pamela Neronha