Winners and losers in Sustainability
Last week, I got a complaint from someone on the West Coast of the USA that our Green Academy Supply Chain edition was at 6am for them. I had to point out that, as someone on the East Coast and somebody in Australia were taking part, the session covered many more of the world’s timezones than it left out. I always wanted Green Academy to have a global reach, but you can never cover everyone (unfortunately our audience isn’t large enough to make multiple sessions feasible).
When I was a kid, any complaints from me of “that’s not fair” were always countered with “life’s not fair.” Maybe that’s why I’m quite brutal about the fact that the move to a Sustainable economy will have losers as well as winners. That’s how change works, through a process of creative destruction: Sustainability will only happen when we create a green economy and destroy the brown one. We can’t have both.
I say this because sometimes the inherent niceness of many in the Sustainability field can be a hindrance to change. I’ve been told “we would never drop a supplier over Sustainability – our policy is to work with them”. I can understand why the first move (and second, maybe third moves) should be collaboration, but the threat of “if you can’t provide what we want on Sustainability, we will find someone who can” must always be there, otherwise there is no incentive to change. And, not to put too fine a point on it, you are paying your suppliers to deliver what you need, so why let them ruin your Sustainability ambitions?
It is similar with employees. Change is seen as an opportunity by some and a threat by others. My Green Jujitsu approach to engaging people in Sustainability is designed specifically to bring those who ‘don’t get it’ on board, but I’m not wishy-washy about it. It is naive to expect Sustainability to happen through ‘hands around the campfire’ idealism – you need to embed it into the personal objectives of key decision makers. Then they have to decide whether or not to do the job you are paying them to do – and reap the rewards/suffer the consequences of that decision.
The old cliché of an iron fist in a velvet glove applies to delivering Sustainability. Work with the willing, bring on board the uncertain, but don’t tolerate the intransigent. Otherwise you are sustaining the problem.