Changes in Perspective: Towards a Sustainability Mindset

It’s hard to believe these two related diagrams were developed in 2002. Post the 2008 Wall Street collapse, the unstable economy in Europe, and the slow economic recovery in the U.S., it’s time for us to consider and embody this change in perspective in our business operations today.

I use these two diagrams often in speeches and to describe the journey towards sustainability today. My description usually begins with the environment as the largest single concern businesses should have on their plate today. Why? Because in the next 10 years our dwindling resources will make this discussion a necessity. Why not be ahead of the curve and plan for these changes versus being forced to do it when resources are in limited supply?

In Diagram One, we see the largest circle is the economy. That business philosophy is simply…money first. Make money and make more money. While I concur that companies must make a profit to stay in business, forward-thinking companies realize that the social and environmental aspects of their operations not only enhance their bottom line, but create a positive brand and customer and employee loyalty. These same companies have taken on the responsible, accountable business philosophy of examining their carbon footprint and ways they can address any negative impacts on the environment. It’s no longer just about making money. This diagram illustrates the lack of connection between the economic aspects of a company and the social and environmental aspects of doing business—the old mindset.

If you are in business today, consider Diagram Two.  Consider it because it has much to teach all of us about a needed change in perspective.  Our ability to make money, our ability to create effective social systems is dependent on environmental sustainability. Without environmental resources, we can not operate our businesses and create processes and systems for our employees to carry out our operations. Without it, we cannot operate, period.  If we recognize the importance of the environment, we realize that our next emphasis is our people. Without sustainable social systems (ways to address the issues of multiple stakeholders—employees, customers, etc)—we will not stay in business.

It’s time to understand the old systems and embrace the new. Our changed perspectives come first from an understanding of our current systems. To me, Diagram two illustrates that companies must make environmental sustainability a priority to create lasting success.  It’s no longer money first; it’s environment first, and then social systems and then making money.  What perspective are you embracing?  What will it take for you to take one small step to address environmental sustainability within your Company?  I hope the water won’t run out and the energy costs won’t skyrocket before you make some changes within your company.

Diagrams © Giddings, et al, 2002.

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