Elephant in the Living Room


Discussions around corporate responsibility dwell usually around tough but somehow comfortable topics: how to bring ethics into the business and investments, how to take social ends for your business ends, how to  treat employees in an equal way and so forth. This is all good and helps sustainability issues to be brought into the agenda of our economic and social life.

But there is one issue which is NOT discussed and which, however, at the root of our sustainability concerns. It is the issue of growth.

Our whole economies are geared around the growth. You cannot run a company, particularly company with public shareholders, if you are not insisting on growth. You come to the verge of breaking the existing law! Moreover, we like the growth because growth in most cases means progress to us. This is what has been taught to us, this is what our genes and memes tell us.

So even for those people responsible for environmental and social affairs of companies it is practically taboo to question the paradigm of growth. It comes as accepted fact that everything else rest upon: jobs, innovations, cashflow and and all other nice stuff.

Last year, the outdoor clothing company Patagonia - that I greatly respect - launch a major campaign with an add in New York Times, with a heading: "Don't Buy This Jacket" . They wanted to create discussion around how do we consume -and not consume. Paradoxically, that campaign -greatly appreciated by consumers- increased the sales growth of that company... but now they go on with their campaign, asking the question what is the Responsible Economy of our times. And there growth is not a taboo.



And I think we all know why we need to bring this topic up: any incremental progress with sustainability is eaten up by quantitative growth. Take almost any natural resource we have and this is true: Every year we have less pristine forests, less biodiversity, less drinkable water and so forth.  Don't get me wrong: there is nothing inevitable in this and every step to the right direction is good and necessary. We should not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of these problems. There is sufficient amount of history behind to prove that things can change quickly. We could reverse ozone depletion and acid rain.

Even NASA has risen to the challenge: last Friday they announced a new modelling project "HANDY", destined to explore the implication of possible civilization collapse caused by over-exploitation of natural resources in the coming decades.

To me, being an "old" member of Club of Rome, this seems a new "Limits to Growth" study, penetrating into complex relationship between Humans and Nature. It seems that the time has come to recognize there is an elephant in our living room.