Business starts to give nature much-needed concern

paper-map-1-1372603-mWHAT is obvious is invisible to the eye. To illustrate this intriguing statement, one has only to observe how man sees his environment. As man moves toward more sophisticated technological systems, man-made products fill his existence. As he looks at his world, his eyes take in literally countless of products that he has crafted from the earth. But many people often do not realize the impact of proliferation of these products on humanity. With business inexorably pushing onwards to achieve its competitive goals to produce more, sell more, and profit more; with business reaching out to every corner of the globe with every conceivable world class product, the stark reality is that business is radically transforming the face of the earth.

Business is nature’s foe: this is the jolting realization one reaches after reading the epilogue of the book, “The Dynamics Enterprise” written by the husband and wife team of Lisa Friedman and Dr. Herman Gyr which is due for release early this year. The book is about how companies can cope with the changing environment. It presents a scenario of chaos in the world, a framework that companies can use in order to survive in this chaos, and a work plan for creating the dynamic enterprise.

The book covers everything that a firm needs to know and to survive and grow. It reads like an updated and more interesting textbook on business strategy and policy. Thus, its final chapter on the environmental impact of business is, to say the least, surprising. As one reads through the final chapter, a more disturbing realization comes. The power of business to transform the earth is damaging life rather than supporting it. The authors point out that business extracts natural resources from the environment and converts these resources into products. In the process, the natural environmental is fast being transformed into an unnatural one. Resources are being depleted and not replaced; wasters are created that are not or can not be recycled.

The book quotes Paul Hawken, a businessman and writer: “Quite simply, our business practices are destroying life on earth. Given the current corporate practices, not one wildlife reserve, wilderness, or indigenous culture will survive the global market economy. We know that every natural system on the planet is disintegrating. The land, air and sea have been functionally transformed from life-supporting systems into repositories for waste. There is no polite way to say that business is destroying the world.” After reading this statement, one is tempted to reject outright this notion of business as foes to nature. In working world, business is a savior, a means to a better life. However, one gets to question the latter view as eyes open wide to finally seeing the pieces of plastic, the foil wrappers, the rusted cans and a multitude of product wastes that litter the soil around us. On a bigger scale, one can note the monumental garbage dumps that are a source of pollution, disease and death in our cities; the chemical effluvium that makes water putrid; and the toxic gases emitted by the millions of vehicles on the road. These are but a few of the more common evidences of the impact of business on the natural world.

Planning the future

Gyr and Friedman state that when companies plan for the future of their businesses, they consider their customers, competitors, suppliers, government, technologies, resources and culture. However, they usually fail to include the natural environment in their business plans. The authors write: “Even in the face of increasingly available data telling us that this is an area of growing impact, we leave the natural world and resources off our strategic maps.

Gyr and Friedman propose an enterprise development model that will guide a company in ensuring that all critical factors are keyed into their developmental plan. The Enterprise Development Model, which the author designed, uses the STEP framework. STEP is an acronym for four vital areas which a company has to look at in developing a dynamic enterprise.

These are structure, tasks of the enterprise, environment (internal and external) and people. The authors claim that this model will enable companies “to organize and condense the data.” It will enable the come panics to put “the toughest data” on their strategic maps including those which are not normally considered in business plans, like the natural environment, social concerns or political developments.

Sustainable business

Gyr and Friedman cite several companies and business leaders who had the courage to address the environmental impact of their businesses. They note that there is already a network of leaders from business, technology, science and the environment that is concerned with increasing the value of each unit of productive resource used by business such as energy and materials. Mitsubishi Electric itself is working on how electronic products can be disassembled and its components reused in a way that will be safe for the environment. This will be put back into the manufacturing plants to reuse its own products. In this program, the company takes back worn out carpet tiles of its customers instead of leaving it to their customers to dispose them.

This emerging social responsibility of the corporation has resulted in a new concept of “sustainable businesses.” A sustainable business is one that not only seeks to reduce environmental risks in its operations or cut costs through recycling but is committed to a lifetime stewardship of the resources that come into the company by making the best use and reuse of its materials. The book cites Stuart Hart (1997) who wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review: “(Hart) describes companies that have saved millions of dollars through recycling and reusing materials and energy. However, Hart asserts that the real potential in sustainable business lies in the opportunity for immense growth that still lies ahead and that sustainable development is one of the biggest opportunities in the history of commerce.”

Joining the search

Gyr and Friedman, looking into the “deep future” see that more and more organizations will join the search on how to conserve our natural resources and that customers will demand this, in turn, from the products they buy. This, they believe that the enterprise that will succeed in the future is one that has taken all these into consideration and responds accordingly.

The authors caution however that this transformation of business will require a rethinking of the fundamental beliefs of many businesses and overhauling of the business practices that pervade our businesses today. With the planet being inevitably stresses beyond it’s natural limits, this will be a condition that businesses will be forced to deal with if they want humanity to survive beyond the lifetime of their leaders.

Here in the Philippines, while our businesses are not yet producing the wastes of technology to the extent that developed countries have done, we still have a chance to clean up out act. There are so many possibilities for improvement: getting rid of those smoke-belching monsters on the streets is one; planning not only for garbage disposal but rather a garbage recycling program on a national scale.

With Mother Earth already groaning from our wanton use of her resources, it would not even be far off to imagine a law that would require companies to have a recycling program for their own products before they would be permitted to operate. It is not enough for businesses for advertise its support a cleaner environment; it should examine the bowels of its own operations and find out how they can be lifetime stewards of the resources they use.

The book “The Dynamic Enterprise” redefines the concept of the corporation’s social responsibility to one of the corporation’s responsibility to life. It rocks the very foundation of businesses, shakes the core values business leaders, and explodes the comfort zone of every working individual.

The Dynamic Enterprise
by Lisa Friedman and Herman Gyr Jossey Bass Publishers,
San Francisco, USA 1998, 259 pages

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer November 10, 1997.

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Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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