You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. The reason is that I have, like so many other people out there, been a little under water lately. I live in Sacramento and everyone I talk to has that panicked, marginally terrified look on their face, as if to say, “I did everything right, why am I unemployed/bankrupt/losing my house/spouse/friends/life?” And I have to admit, I probably have the same look some days. I mean…. how do I devote myself to teaching environmental sustainability and life balance when everyone around me is just barely trying to keep their head above water? It just seemed so lefty-condescending to me. So, instead of putting the message out there, I have retreated. I have found other goals for myself and pursued them in a more personal and singular way.
That said, I woke up this morning with an overwhelming feeling that I had gotten that wrong; that the reason why sustainability fails over and over is because we ARE willing to put it in the back seat when it gets really hard. I realized that I was being a wimp. That I was letting the press and the hype of all the doom and gloom get under my skin and make a nasty little goal-defeating summer house there.
Now is not the time to retreat. Now is not the time to put all your energy into staying afloat! Now is the time to find REAL balance. Now is the time to find out what you truly NEED for a personally sustainable life. Most likely, recycling and composting is the last thing on you mind…. frankly, it has been the last thing on mine for a while now, but now is the time for that to change. There has never been a better moment in this world to do what we can as businesses and as humans to reach out and see how we can help each other, and help the world around us.
My commitment today is to reach out. What’s your commitment?
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
I’m sure Arthur Ashe had no idea that his statement of simple positivism would reach so far into the future, into the sustainability movement, and into the minds of so many frustrated change-makers. I’m sure Mr. Ashe just meant that when the chips are down, try your best. right? But that’s the thing about the power of words….once they are out there, they grow and bloom and expand and wiggle their way into our consciousness. They can turn into something so much more powerful than we ever imagined.
Start where you are.
You know those moments, when you are standing at the grocery store, and you realize that you need something else, but you have to go to the other side of the store to get it? Somewhere right after realizing you need that eggplant, just before kicking yourself for not remembering it when you were over there to begin with, is that brief moment when you take stock of where you are right then and how to get to where you need to go. It sounds simple enough, but when was the last time you really thought about where your business is, and how you can get to where you need to go?
Use what you have.
So, you’re back at the grocery store, wracking your brain, trying to remember if you have fish in the freezer or not. You finally realize that you really won’t know for sure until you get home. So, you take stock of what’s in your cart that you could magically turn into dinner (because you really just want to go home and eat, and you are tired of shopping for more stuff, and you had a long day, and you would probably be perfectly happy eating popcorn and leftover rice anyway). Then it hits you….stir-fry, voila! I don’t need fish, I have peas and carrots and broccoli and soy sauce!
Think about it. Take stock. You probably have more in your cart than you realize. That old can of tomato paste could be tomorrow’s brilliant spaghetti sauce. Use what you have. You probably have more than you realize.
Do what you can.
Remember, doing what you can doesn’t mean the same thing as doing what you are capable of. Just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean it is a good idea for you. Especially if that thing will preclude your ability to do more/better later. Doing what you can means being comfortable with saying no, so that you always have the time and energy to do the things that light you up and make you the brilliant leader that you are!
Have you ever watched business people on a busy downtown street from the window of a tall building? They look like some magical costumed play happening just for you. Everyone is dressed the same; blue suits, gray suits, black suits….all artfully twisting and maneuvering around each other like a dance, all pretending they are the only one on the street. They move with signals and colored lights and they follow the rhythm and pace set by their directors.
8:00am: Act One… Set up the story for the following acts…
12:00pm: Intermission… Time for a quick bite….
1:00pm: Act 2…Wrap up the story, or perhaps leave it hanging for another tale?
5:00pm Curtain Call….Take your bows, hope no one noticed that you missed a bit in Act One
….after party….meet with friends, discuss Act One’s flubs….hope for better tomorrow….
What is business if not a vast, endless blank canvas waiting to be filled with beauty, with life, with profit? What if we stopped ‘starting businesses’, and started ‘creating businesses’? How could this subtle change move our collective needle from what we know works, to what we had no idea was even possible?
So, why can’t business be art? Beautiful, lively, creative? And more importantly, what does this have to do with sustainability?
Think about it. What are the most lasting indicators we have of bygone eras? They are not the spreadsheets and the human resource manuals, they are the brilliant and expressive works of artists, designers, and magical, creative people who were able to capture a moment in time with the stroke of a brush, the slant of a shoulder pad, the snip of a perfect coif, or tip of a pen. This is REAL sustainability. Indelible images of color and hope, there to show us where we’ve been and what (or what not) to do next.
So what if your business was designed, not started? What if your customers were opportunities to create great and wonderful things that will last a lifetime because of their splendor?….and not simply another revenue stream?
To clearly understand how art, sustainability, and business fit together, first you have to get your head around what each means individually. Since all of these are very subjective terms, I am going with what my personal definitions are.
Art: The color we paint the world with. The blues of the gray areas between black and white. The sound of a perfect song, the smell of a perfect meal. Art is the thing that makes you soul sing and your heart dance.
Sustainability: Living your life (or running your business) in such a way that you do not prevent future generations from doing the same.
Business: The wheels on the bus that takes us to the place where all things are possible. Our livelihood. The way we spend most of our life, and the thing we understand least.
So what if your business was designed not only to take you where you want to go, but also leave and indelible imprint on the planet and our culture that continued to be a valuable, enriching, and thriving force for generations to come?
True sustainability must be beautiful, delightful, and creative, or it will just become another lost idea that we collectively leave behind.
So I ask….what’s beautiful and creative about your business?
When I was a freshmen in high school, I had an English teacher that assigned my class to find a piece of writing, then copy the structure using my own words. The idea was to understand and internalize how the masters do it, but with our own personality and creativity. It was a great exercise that I have used over and over in all kinds of areas of my life, not just writing. Any time I have wanted to learn a new skill, stepping in to the shoes of those that do it REALLY well has always helped me to understand where I want to end up.
So, the topic today is:
How do the masters in your field implement and define sustainability, and how can you use their frameworks and your own fantastic and creative ideas to leapfrog miles ahead?!?
According to Environmental Leader, there is currently an initiative by the Environmental Defense Fund called the Climate Corps that pairs MBA students with large corporations for ten week projects to help them improve energy efficiency and sustainable practices. Last year’s group of seven MBA’s reported savings of $35 million in net operational costs over five years while cutting 57,000 tons of carbon pollution annually. In addition, group identified ways to conserve more than 119 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. All in ten weeks!
Makes it hard to say that Green costs more and isn’t worth investing in, doens’t it?
So, how could your business benefit from the expertise of a Green MBA? Could it save you money? Could it lower your carbon pollution footprint? Could it lower your electric bill? Yes!!! But what this program didn’t cover was communication! This it where your real opportunity comes in. When was the last time your business did something that was so great —and I don’t mean a big sale or a new website– I mean something really, really great, so great that you wanted to shout it from the rooftops? This is Green marketing. This is why you hire a Green MBA (like me). We have the expertise to help you figure out how your business can be so great that you will have to shout it from the rooftops, and people will want to listen!
Check out my website at: http://www.illanaburk.com.
This is the fundamental question, isn’t it? What does the word SUSTAINABILITY really mean? Three years ago, when I was in Grad School (for a Green MBA) the word ‘sustainability’ still got a little red squiggly line under it every time I typed it into Word. This word that has come to be so meaningful to so many, wasn’t even a word (at least in Microsoft’s world) until last year!
If someone asked you to explain what sustainability means to a child (or an adult, for that matter), could you?
Unfortunately, you don’t often hear about what sustainability really is, and why the term itself is important. Instead, everyone wants to know:
What should we do?
How much money will it save me?
I recycle and buy organic food, isn’t that enough?
Green(washed) marketing will tell you that, ‘Simple choices will save us!’ and ‘Every small gesture matters!’ NBC is currently airing public service announcements with prime-time B-list celebrities making statements like, “I’m trying to use cloth bags at the market!” and, “Taking unused stuff out of your trunk will save you gas mileage!” NBC is seriously spending money telling people that taking your pet rock collection out of your trunk is all you need to do to go Green.
Instead of all the chatter, shouldn’t we be really talking about what it means, not what we did wrong (and how little we can do to fix it)? Sustainability is a simple concept. In 1987, the UN Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.)
In business terms, that translates to, “Doing business in such a way that does not compromise future generations’ ability to do the same.”
How do you feel about that? What’s the first thing that runs through your head after reading that statement? Is your first reaction to be wracked with guilt over the fact that you didn’t buy the recycled paper because it was $1.00 more? Or, do you think about whether it even matters? Do you wonder if we are even supposed to keep on truckin’ for another twenty thousand years?
There is no right answer.
There is only one way to look at sustainability:
We must be fearless.
We must not get bogged down in guilt, and we must not put our head in the sand and hope for brighter days. That means t hat today is a new day. Every day we have new choices to make and new opportinities to be leaders, along with new and inevitable opportunities to fall short.
As I climb down off of today’s soapbox, I would like to ask everyone reading a simple question:
What does SUSTAINABILITY mean to you? Please give it some thought and post a comment with your response. There is no right answer here…if sustainability means nutritious food for your family, or ending world hunger, I invite you to share why it’s important TO YOU to do your best to be green.
p.s. – Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog (button on left)….how else will you know when I have more genius material for you to read?!?