Christian Long

Ray Anderson: The Business Logic of Sustainability

In TED Talks on April 15, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Reflection by RIVU D.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Ray Anderson:  The Business Logic of Sustainability

What exactly is sustainability?

Sustainability, as defined by Ray Anderson, is a business model for his company that has no human impact on the environment. Having a heavily petroleum based company, you would imagine that at first, having zero human impact on the environment would be a highly difficult, if not impossible task. However, with his company Ray Anderson has not only managed to forge the path to success for his goal of zero human impact but he has also managed to increase sales in a rough economic period and even go as far as to double his company’s profits, all while cutting green house emissions approximately 80%. By the year 2020, Ray Anderson states that his company will have reached his goal of absolutely no human impact on the environment.

But even with statistics and figures, what exactly does all this mean? Will one company’s reduced impact on the environment really help the Earth in any significant way?

Statistically speaking, one company wont make a dent in our planets green house emissions, but what it will do is set the foundation for other companies to follow suit.

What Ray Anderson has done is not significant because of the percentage of green house emissions his company managed to cut, it is significant because he has managed to prove that it is possible for a Petroleum reliant company to be ecosystem friendly and still be able to compete in the economy, even going as far as to increase there profits. Essentially, he’s made the idea of sustainability a viable business model. If other companies take a look at his business model and how exactly he went about doubling his profits and cutting emissions at the very same time, they might copy the approach in an attempt to double their own profits, and when this happens, more green house emissions are cut. The more companies that take the leap and use the business model, the more green house emissions will be cut, and eventually, with the support of sustainability form enough companies, the amount of green house emissions cut will be significant enough to actually make a dent on the total green house emissions on the planet.

But, a vast amount of companies would have to adopt the approach, and limiting the scope to American companies isn’t plausible, as green house emissions are a worldwide issue and it cant be solved by a single country, no matter how powerful or influential that country may be.

In the video, Ray Anderson also makes a very interesting psychological point.

He states that if humans could be content with “less stuff”, civilization as a whole would change for the better.

The idea is, that we as humans are all incredibly materialistic. If we could let go of some of that materialism, we could benefit the very planet that we so desperately rely on. But eventually the question arises, are humans really materialistic? Do we as people want more then we should? Or does it depend on the individual? My own personal theory is that humans are in fact materialistic by nature, but they also happen to put conscious effort in to decreasing their narcissism. Take something that has more historic roots, the practice of becoming nuns and monks. Many a time, the people who partook in the training to follow such professions did so by choice, by their own individual spirituality. This is a clear show of an individual trying to stifle his or her own narcissism, by following a life of pure spirituality with little to no materialism, only surviving on the bare necessities and devoting all other conscious energies to being a devout individual. Or for a more modern example, just take Ray Anderson’s company and the work it’s done. It has consciously changed the way it functions as a whole, in the process becoming much less materialistic, enough to cut emissions by over 80%.

What Ray Anderson has done for his own company is a marvelous personal achievement and he should be commended for it, but his personal work with his own company isn’t where the beauty of the story lies. Rather, it lies in the premise that “going green” will actually help your business, rather than harm it, and that a foundation has been laid for other companies to adopt the approach and possibly increase their sales and definitely reduce emissions.

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