What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Restorative Business

I'm searching for a business model I can believe in. I'll need to make a living when we set up in the states and I'm determined to do it in a sustainable way. Increasingly though, I've become convinced that the words sustainable and business don't go well together. We are beyond the point where we can afford to invest in products and practices that don't directly increase the sustainability of our ecosystem. Any purchase or manufacture of a product that doesn't do this is part of the problem, not the solution.

For example, building green cars is a misdirection, we should be finding ways to do without cars wherever possible and rectifying those situations in which a car is necessary to one in which it is not. The amount of energy used to build a car, the embodied energy, will far exceed the savings involved in driving such a vehicle. That is not to say that cars shouldn't be built to be more efficient. They should, but should we artificially stimulate a market for them when we already have too many cars? This was what cash for clunkers was all about. But our mindset has not shifted in any significant way.

The 2008 green car of the year was the Chevrolet Hybrid. It weighs more than an elephant! How can driving a car that heavy be considered in any way green when we have the technology to make lightweight hyper efficient vehicles? Yes it improved it's fuel efficiency by 30% but still only gets 21 mpg. That is not progress. That is not green.

According to Paul Hawken in his book "The Ecology of Commerce" the restorative economy
"is based on the idea that its products or services will improve people's lives qualitatively, not quantitatively. It should provide a product or service that helps people develop their lives, and not merely increase the amount of their possessions. The smaller the business, the easier it is to internalize this distinction."

When we realize that climate change will increase hardships for everyone, except perhaps the rich who can afford irresponsibility, can any product that increases the likelihood of climate change be said to "improve people's lives qualitatively"?

So what are some examples of restorative business? Preventative medicine, which aims to foster good health, as opposed to allopathic medicine, which depends on sickness and symptoms to treat; organic farming which sequesters carbon while producing food that produces health as opposed to industrial agriculture which does neither; renewable energy which produces energy without carbon emissions and has a high energy return on energy invested as opposed to fossil fuels that when the EROI of climate is factored in has a negative return; building bicycles, the most efficient form of transport known to man, education in self sufficiency skills and how to reduce dependence on the global economy; building things from recycled materials; restoring biodiverse ecosystems; these are all examples.

But is there room for this model in American corporate culture? You can see a discussion about this from the Rocky Mountain Institute conference on April 10 2009 in the video I've posted just previous to this post. Many of the examples in this video are truly on the leading edge of sustainability in business, the question remains, do we really need any of it? I don't personally need carpet, I do buy outdoor gear and Patagonia sets the standard in that business. I suppose I have to cloth myself but I will continue to purchase used clothing when I can, wear everything till it falls apart, and will think more carefully before I buy a piece of new gear.

So what am I to do when I get to the states, our plan is to focus on making our lives as sustainable as possible while looking at business options that enable us to help others do the same.


Kate said...

Sustainable agriculture seems the most obvious choice. I think it's going to be a job that a lot more of us will be doing, eventually.

Another option is to get into the repair business in any way that appeals and is relatively sustainable. Helping people to continue using what they already have is a great way to make a community more sustainable. Tools and knives need sharpening and repairs. Shoes can be resoled.

I suspect much of what needs repairing will eventually be taken care of "in-house" as people see the need to conserve money and other resources, and learn to rely on their own ingenuity. But some things will require special equipment or expertise to last another year. It wouldn't hurt to acquire such equipment or develop such expertise. And that's a very small scale business model.

C Robb said...

I agree on all points. Thousands of small scale businesses will have to replace a couple of globalized ones. Imagine, if we cut the dross of consumerism from our lives and pare down to just the necessary, what would we still need at Walmart? A business to make those things is what we will need.