Can we have Sustainability without Sacrifice?

I attend the annual BSR Conference in NYC last week. It was a very inspiring week and I met a lot of people and had some great conversations. During the night of the election, I walked over to the Rockefeller Center with some colleagues from Apple to view the election results. It was a very electrifying atmosphere and it was exciting to be part of the crowd for this historic election. My Apple friends were showing off their iphones and offered to take a photo of me – my older model blackberry doesn’t have a camera, which they did not let me forget.


The conference had some really good sessions. I especially enjoyed the presentation by Jeffrey Immelt, GE – CEO. He gave some nice simple strategies for CSR management. I also enjoyed the presentation by John Anderson, CEO Levi Strauss & Co. He was very down-to-earth and pragmatic in his approach; however, it could have been he was wearing blue jeans and not a suit (?)

One of the things I struggle with at these conferences is the definition of Sustainability. It seems to me when we are discussing sustainability; we are taking about how we maintain the life style we currently have and help other emerging markets improve their standard of living too – without – impacting ours. We fly to expensive conferences, stay in expensive hotels, eat great meals and talk about how we are working to make the world a better place to live. We then go back to our gigantic homes (by world standards) and drive one of our multiple cars, and plan our next vacation. Now I’m not pointing the finger at others, because I realize when you point a finger at someone else, three point back at yourself, but I’m simply asking can we continue to consume at the rate we do while other emerging economies move up their rates of consumption?

Can we have sustainability without some sacrifice – meaning, having less stuff and using less stuff? And if we do consume less, what happens to our economy since it’s so driven by consumption. At these conferences, we discuss how we make stuff more efficiently and in a way that is less harmful to the environment, when we might be asking why we need so much stuff in the first place. We also seem to never take up the topics of the food we eat or the number of offspring we have. We discuss a lot of great initiatives, but the proverbial “elephants in the room”: food choices, children and our consumption levels, roam around without much discussion. Maybe these issues are just too polarizing to discuss, but it would be nice to see these topics on the agenda for a major CSR conference.

2 thoughts on “Can we have Sustainability without Sacrifice?

  1. Gary: Very powerful and insightful comments. I wonder if you read Al Gore’s op/ed in Wall St. Journal on 11/5 titled “Sustainable Capitalism” with a great tagline: “nature does not do bailouts”. I’ll be in touch soon for our next-step discussion. Great to meet you at BSR. Barbara

  2. The simple answer to your question is NO, especially if success is defined by where and how we live. Not so ironically, the largest houses always seem to be near the best schools, with the biggest cars in the driveway and the most lights left on in the house. Without having the government dictating the most simple decisions we make everyday (i.e. the use of plastic bags to take our groceries home, the fuel mileage our cars must get) up to the life changing decisions that we make (i.e. number of children, availablility of food) change will occur through education and having sustainable choices more available. Good luck with the discussion of the elephants in the room…….someone has to do it.

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