Friday, January 16, 2009

A Strategic Approach to the Necessary Revolution

Sustainability and Organizational Strategy

We are writing from Kauai Hawaii. Yes, we know: we are very fortunate to be able to work a warm, blissful environment while our home base, the Boston area, is experiencing a very snowy winter with single digit temperatures. New forms of social, economic and technical realities allow us to continue being productive wherever we are in the world. We are already finding that the change of scene is benefiting our minds, bodies and spirits, allowing us to flower in the development of our thinking and aspirations. As we settle in, we want to discuss some of our current thinking, which we will elaborate upon as we delve into our work here.

Sustainability Drives Strategy

"Sustainability" is a term that is at risk of becoming as meaningless as "natural foods," which now includes products that are way too sweet and fattening. As our colleague, Kim Novick, points out, many organizations today are turning blue in the face "signaling" how green they are without really changing their fundamental beliefs and actions regarding the relationship of human activity to the natural environment. As a species, we are continuing to treat nature as a waste dump and it's getting sicker and sicker. Since we are completely dependent on the natural environment, we are risking failure and self annihilation. We are in an abusive relationship with this Eden called Earth. We continue to propagate an enormous web of denial about the ecological consequences of our actions. We continue to deplete resources that cannot be replenished. We implicitly assume that some other generation with a new technology is going to take care of our mess. In doing so, we are reinforcing the denial.

It is imperative that we truly alter our relationship to our environment by acting in ways that will make it possible for human and natural systems to thrive into the future. That's a definition of sustainability. We can't interfere with the capacity of living systems to regenerate. Doing so invites disaster. The requiem scenario confronts the possibility that the past will not extend into the future and that humans may not continue to populate the planet.

Renowned systems thinker, Peter Senge, and his organizational colleagues in the Society for Organizational Learning's Sustainability Consortium have stepped up to the challenge of sustainability with energetic pragmatism and are dedicated to doing something about it. In the book, The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World, Senge and his co-authors lay out a compelling case for change -- identifying in very specific and devastating terms the degree to which humanity has compromised its environment throughout the Industrial Age. They also report on many promising initiatives around the world, focusing on the role that large corporations like Alcoa, duPont and Coca Cola are playing in bringing about a new relationship between their complex organizations and the ecological context in which all of us are embedded. They go inside the heartminds and the behavioral repertoires of the men and women who have successfully introduced ecologically-oriented systems change in the corporate world. They feel that the Industrial Age is inevitably giving way to a new age in human history. In our opinion, the book glosses over a number of important issues in order to make its point. For example, the authors praise Costco executives for going to prayer meetings with their suppliers in Central America, but their stores continue to be ecologically insensitive and their employees uninspired, reflected in their unwelcoming attitude toward customers. Such criticisms aside, this is an important book because it clearly identifies the necessity to make sustainability a fundamental organizational strategy.

Art of the Future has been working closely with the Association for Strategic Planning to heighten awareness of the importance of sustainability among an international community of practitioners. ASP is dedicated to advancing the profession and practice of strategic planning. Their Annual Conference on February 22-24, 2009 in San Diego is focused on sustainability as a strategic principle for organizational success. Art of the Future has been integrally involved in the design of this program, which includes multiple break out sessions, deep dive workshops, and presentations from CEO's like Neal Schmale of Sempra Energy and Jeff Dunn of Bolthouse Farms who are immersed in the day-to-day choices that turn sustainability into a reality rather than an abstract concept.

We are particularly pleased about the warm reception that Dr. Lisa Shaffer, executive director of University of California at San Diego's Environment and Sustainability Initiative, has extended to conference attendees as a Learning Journey to their campus. Lisa will lead a three hour tour of UCSD's broad range of sustainability initiatives. The University's Vice-Chancellor for Planning, Gary Matthews, will be joining us to discuss why the University has made such large investments in sustainability initiatives.

We invite everyone to join us in participating in this important conference.
If you think this might be of interest, click here for more information and registration.

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