Its a problem that people do bad - worse is that people refuse to do good
The world needs positive action. We cannot be satisfied by stopping negative attitudes and asking those who do harm to do less harm. A thief who is stealing less is still a thief. However we have this strange situation that a company that pollutes less gets environmental awards. It is still polluting! How is it possible that we developed this double moral, celebrating what is clearly insufficient? If you know you pollute, and you are aware of the collateral damage you cause, how can one solely engage in programs to do less bad. It is unethical and should not be condoned, and certainly does not merit awards which have proliferated around the world justifying this mediocre shift towards sustainability. The jump from doing less bad to committing to do more good requires a shift in business philosophy where external costs cannot be tolerated anymore and the building up of social capital is as important as competing on the market. And while traditional managers will denigrate this concept as unrealistic, one sometimes must demonstrate that the present crisis is real and caused by an economic system that is not capable of responding to the basic needs of all, let alone control its aberrations.
It is difficult to write - but timely to admit that several large global environmental organizations are often as conservative as multinational enterprises. Therefore it is no surprise that they find each other next to each other - and not anymore opposite to each other debating subjects that seems to make little difference on the ground to the people that matter, especially the bottom of the pyramid. How come institutions like the International Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and WWF can only set targets for protecting nature while 40 years of action on the ground can present a few anecdotes as successes, while the world statistics of conservation are dramatic: loss of species like never before and loss of ecosystems of unparalleled magnitudes.
If the chief executive of an enterprise misses all targets while having had a tremendous groundswell of consumer interest and support in his products, would we not all agree that time has arrived to fundamentally shift the strategy, instead of accusing others for failure to live up to the expectations, and complain of having insufficient funds to get the job done? Or is the excuse for failing that the politicians who were not cooperative, or even corrupt? It is time that environmental organization shift their strategy and bluntly state that protection has been attempted for 40 years and we have clearly fallen short of most of the even modest objectives. Let us therefore be ambitious and aim to put nature back on its evolutionary path, drastically reducing the time and the money spent on analyzing the problem, calling for an urgent call to this creative force of millions who are committed to design a new way forward.
Labor unions are unfortunately loosing members by the millions and as such find themselves face to face with an erosion of their legitimacy. Whereas strikes are increasingly wild strikes supported by non-unionized members, an increasing amount of union representatives are only aiming to preserve what has been acquired. Just like conservationists who want to preserve, and end up losing; union representative wish to preserve the acquired rights of workers, and end up losing; and, corporate executives want to maintain their market loose market share. It suffice here to mention that bankers who wanted to continue making huge bonuses by making money on other peopleʼs money without risking much of their own, also ended up loosing taking the savings of rich and poor with them. Protecting is a first step in the right direction, only preserving is no guarantee you move forward in a more promising direction.
Over the past years we have seen courageous whistleblowers who exposed corporate greed and political corruption as well as the lack of respect for human rights. These people often risked their careers, and even their lives in order to show the excesses of a system and rightfully so have obtained legal protection thanks to a broad societal support. We should continue to encourage those who have the guts to come forward and secure that corruption and deceit are rooted out. Apart from the few high profile cases, there are thousands of small whistleblower scale cases which have never been exposed but to some friends and colleagues. Abuse goes far and unnoticed for too long I recently had to expose a Berlin-based team that was offering money for scholarships under the pretext of supporting further education and specialization, only asking worldwide exclusive exploitation rights to the new know-how acquired by the students. Imagine for a mere €6,000 lifelong modern day slavery was expected. We cannot tolerate this and should not only prevent this from happening again, we should expose it in order to avoid other people falling into the same trap - definitely with the same people.
However, while the unveiling of bad practice is well known, I believe time has come to support a new type of whistleblower: the person who exposes those who refuse to do good. From an ethical point of view - doing bad is bad, but refusing to do good is also bad! It is a well established fact that if you are witness to an accident, and refuse to attend to the people in need, you are possibly condemned by court, and if you leave the scene without rendering assistance, the penalty could include jail time. Now we need to take this logic to modern enterprise, environmental organizations and even to labor unions and ask ourselves: are these organizations aware of the tremendous opportunities before them (and us).
It is true that most organizations, especially in the industrialized world, spend huge resources in both time and money on analyzing the problems. We have armies of people who have committed to understand every angle of the issue, and know how to argue the case. It is no surprise that in this culture we have more lawyers than we need to be happy. To my great regret, we have too few people trained to observe a situation and quickly evolve from the description of the problems to the identification of a portfolio of opportunities. These urgently required new insights will give us ideas, which are certainly quickly discarded by experts of fantasy; it will provide access to prototypes, which are always ridiculed as non-functional in the real world; it will even give us pilot cases that are ignored as too small to have an impact on the problems we need to address. However, once you have cases that have outgrown the growing pains that accompany any innovation, then what can the response of the nay-sayers be?
When back in 1992, Prof. Shuting Chang studied for the first time the farming of tropical mushrooms on coffee waste, it was nothing more than an idea. When Carmenza Jaramillo (Colombia) documented over seven years the application of the science, complemented by the pioneering work of Ivanka Milenkovic (Serbia), then pilot projects emerged both on coffee farms as well as in the inner-cities like San Francisco, Seoul, Mexico and Amsterdam. Now there are thousands of people working in the conversion of coffee waste into food, and the conversion of post-industrial and consumer waste into material for odor-controlling polymers for textile and carpets. Then one wonders how long can the makers of instant coffee - who burn millions of tons of pure coffee waste - pretend that this is not an option for them, the community in which they operate and the world which requires fundamental shifts towards a better future. While some may argue that they did not know - once they know - how long are they negating the opportunity to make their company more competitive and their community sustainable while generating jobs and cash flow.
A preliminary calculation indicates that the worldʼs largest maker of instant coffee is discarding an estimated three million tons of coffee waste, which could be converted to three million tons of tropical mushrooms, dramatically increasing the availability of healthy food on the world market at very competitive costs since the substrate has been sterilized in the process and the space needed is minimal. How long can the company maintain that since it is not in the mushroom business it prefers to incinerate the waste and only recover some energy from it? Is it not time that we get positive whistleblowers and say that the refusal to create the opportunity to turn waste into possibly 100,000 jobs at this one company, and to introduce healthy food at lower prices to consumers in a world where half of the world is turning obese due to an economic system where whatever is bad for you is cheap and therefore preferred, especially by the poor.
Now I would like a team of positive whistleblowers take this case to the top 10 instant coffee producers and ask: “How much longer before you want to do good - and make more money?” Unlike the negative whistleblowers, these positive whistleblowers are not preventing companies from making money in the wrong way. These positive whistleblowers empower corporations to make more money, generate better cash flow, and contribute to a positive shift in society towards more and healthy products. This helps to create an economy where the good is cheap and whatever supports the environment to embark on its evolutionary path is possible.
The regeneration of the forest, as demonstrated by Paolo Lugari in Las Gaviotas (Colombia) shows beyond any doubt that the errors of the past can be converted into productive centers of today, while regenerating a native forest and pursuing a clear strategy to respond to the basic needs of all, including the need for fuel and mobility in an isolated zone. This project is now self-sufficient and generates social capital. When we presented the opportunity to expand this to 100,000 hectares the proposal was discarded by the Government. The introduction of soy and corn monocultures with special seeds (read GMO) and a satellite controlled planting and harvesting received the green light from the government, not even generating a 100 jobs on 65,000 HA of land. How can one prefer the short term exploitation by a private group which needs security guards to prevent invasions, to the creation of community that requires no importation from the outside. Is the wish to speculate with land, the drive to export soy to satisfy animal needs elsewhere, and impose genetically modified crops that are chemically controlled the best option for the people? Or should we expose that there is an opportunity to replicate a development inspired by the nearly three decades of hands on experience on the remaining five million hectares, before these will also succumb to the appetite of speculators? There are hundreds of cases that permit us to turn “less bad” into “more good” without falling in the trap of “refusing to do good”.
The key will be to rely on these positive whistleblowers who expose the great opportunities we can quickly identify provided we shift our mindset from the negative to an unconditional positive, scanning for the opportunities while screening for the best options without getting diverted by the audits of the doubters and the demand for more proof of concept than the best one you can offer: go, visit and see for yourself. After all that is the most disarming response of the positive whistleblowers, and one that works even with the staunchest opponents to change. So positive whistleblowers stand up and unite.
© 2012, Gunter Pauli - publish and reprint only with permission
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.