So, there is a lot of talk about how we are leading lives which are unsustainable in the long run. Societies have needs that are unsustainable, population growth is unsustainable, consumption growth is unsustainable and on and on…
But think about it, is the entire capitalist economy not about growth? And if this economy has to thrive and survive and deliver consistent growth, how is that going to come about, and manage to co-exist with the concept of sustainability?
If you watch the TED talk that is posted above, you would note that in developed nations food production has now peaked to 4 times the average requirement. This means that the ease with which food is now being made available ensures the demand for more.
Businesses by definition need growth and in order to grow they make product or services that people would want. Most often these are products or services that would make lives easier! This is the root cause of the problem of sustainability.
I had a moment of epiphany today, when I was forced to take bath in cold water due to the lack of electricity and noticed, how much less water I used! The odd temperature of water made it uncomfortable for me hence I used less of it.
Now, in my experience the moment you make things harder for people, the better they become at conserving!
Let us say, you supply only cold water during winters in the pipes. Well, I do not foresee many taking those long showers. Water Conservation!
For that matter, if bread was not supplied in the supermarket and one was forced to bake the bread themselves, I do not suppose that the ending pieces of the loaf that most throw away would ever be thrown away. Food Conservation!
Let us say that the furniture business model involved building the furniture by yourself. A model that is the grandfather of Ikea, which involved some sawing and shaving the wood to put the end product together; the demand for wooden furniture is sure to plummet. Timber Conservation!
The underlying idea being that in order to conserve something, you need to make it harder for people to acquire and use the same. Businesses would never want to do this; it is sure to cause their value to disappear, if such practices are adopted. Over the centuries, man in his constant pursuit to make lives easier has simplified consumption. This consumption now threatens to cause the problems in the future, simply due to its unsustainability.
We need to start thinking about the kind of growth that should be avoided. Unfortunately, currently we are replete with only this kind of growth.
How many businesses would be willing to sacrifice growth to ensure sustainability?