Does big = bad?
Last Thursday I had a fantastic night’s debate at the Green Thinkers book club run by my friend Marek Bidwell. Up for discussion was one of the seminal books of the environmental movement, Small is Beautiful by EF Schumacher – a 1973 paean to organisations and institutions being of the ‘right size’ rather than growing too big. Growth is a major theme of the book, as Schumacher was one of the first to challenge the GNP/GDP obsession of our times.
And a great debate we had too, ably chaired by Marek fuelled by local real ales – most of which I argued weren’t about 10 years ago showing that ‘going large’ isn’t a one-way street. But does big = bad?
While I love the great green-niche entrepreneurs out there, and the diversity they bring to the market, there’s one things the big boys have which they don’t – buying power. If Walmart, Unilever or Tesco, so much as twitch, the ripples spread out across the world. If they invest in a new technology, its price plummets. They have the power to shape the entire economy and many of them are starting to understand the full depth of the responsibility that goes with that power.
Building those supply chains and bringing technologies forward can have interesting side effects. There was an interesting piece on Dara O’Briain’s Science Club on how games consoles like the Kinect and the Wii have brought down the price of certain sensors to a level where specialist equipment for people with severe disabilities becomes viable. In the same way, if Marks & Spencer creates a supply chain for recycled polyester thread or Unilever cracks the sustainable palm oil problem, it’s an opportunity for everyone big and small.
Maybe big can be beautiful after all.