Creative Destruction and Sustainability
We’re in the midst of party political conference season and one thing you will notice in any discussion about sustainability and climate change is the focus on shiny new technology. You will not of course hear anything about the destruction of the old unsustainable way of doing things. This is for one very good reason – no-one ever got far in politics by emphasising the down side of what they want to do. But, as the cliché goes, you can’t make an omlette without breaking eggs.
There is some irony in the title of this post – that to build a sustainable society, we must destroy the old one. But sustainable in the ecological sense does not mean unchanging, merely the concept of operating within natural limits in an equitable way. Like nature itself, a sustainable society will be constantly evolving, not frozen in aspic.
There are two ways to approach the transition. Firstly the politicans’ method – build the new and let the old wither on the vine. And to a certain extent this is happening – as Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall point out, the more renewable energy the country produces, the less gas is burnt. Rising renewable capacity will eventually lead to reduced gas capacity as who will build what isn’t needed? The upsides are that it is easy to sell and usually produces a robust end product, the downside is speed of change as the system evolves.
The other way is the machismo approach. Companies like InterfaceFLOR appear to relish deleting product ranges which are incompatible with their sustainability targets. They see this as a badge of pride – revolution rather than evolution. This is obviously easier in an organisation than it is in the democratic system as business leaders don’t tend to have the Daily Mail breathing down their necks chasing headlines, but it is fast and decisive.
The answer will no doubt be a mishmash of the two – large scale evolution powered and accelerated by many medium scale revolutions in the value chains that provide our material quality of life. But we can’t duck the fact that change requires destruction as well as creation.