Posted by: genevievetaylor | June 23, 2008

Beyond Environmentalism

My sweetheart and thoughtmate, Christopher Peck, told me about an activity he used to do when teaching two week classes about permaculture, a form of agriculture that focuses (amongst other things) on the health of the soil, as opposed to primarily the health of the plant. (Yes, with amazing results.)

They used to go out on moonless nights with their classes, and had everyone wear a special hat that had a long tube hanging down, right between their noses. At the end of the long, skinny tube was a dap of phosphorus. The task of the class participants was to stare right at the phosphorus, and then to go on a night hike using their peripheral vision only.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because,” he said enthusiastically, “they had to learn to see differently!”

And so it is with sustainability. We have to learn to see differently to be able to create sustainable organizations that move beyond “conserving resources,” or even, beyond simply looking for market opportunity! An organizational sustainability initiative is a vast opportunity – an opportunity to reconsider how we work together; how we think; how we feel the world around us.

It is an opportunity to be a designer, an investigator, a collaborator, a life-changer. The best solutions for making our organizations sustainable are going to be found by people who feel like their ideas are heard, who feel they can make a contribution to a cause that matters, who feel that they trust that their organizations can walk their walk.

It is an opportunity to leave a legacy that is even farther reaching than “saving the planet.” It is an opportunity for personal growth, for building an organization that matters.

In this journey, we have to leave behind the safe categories we have relied on in the past – she is the Greenie, he is the business-man, they are the bad guy, I am the good guy. As Al Gore has been famously saying, we don’t have time for that nonsense anymore.

Instead, we have to look for the pieces to the puzzle – the most interesting solutions could be with a competitor, in India or Mexico, with the janitor or secretary, or even (dare I say it?) with the boss.

If you really want to help your organization be sustainable – you have to move beyond environmentalism.

But, how, you say, with quizzical eye? Stay tuned!

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