A New Way To Think About Sustainability

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Smart managers are wary of epiphanies. “Suddenly, everything looked different” should be the last line of a short story, not a report from the management front. But sometimes, something makes you look at a matteryou’ve paid a lot of attention to in a different way. Even if you look at everything differently for only a moment and then you return to your original perspective, that perspective has been changed.

Pollan PopTech pic, cc image by Kris KurgThat may have happened to some people at last week’s Pop!Tech conference, in Camden, Maine. One of the speakers was Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire, who delivered a variation of his standard talk on sustainable food. In that talk, he dropped this nugget:

“A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius.”

It’s unlikely that Pollan’s talk will drive meat eaters to the tofu aisle in the supermarket; it’s even more unlikely that it will make a Prius driver feel comfortable making a guilt-free move to a Hummer. But what Pollan did was frame the sustainability question in a new way, a way most of his audience (both in Camden and on the Internet) had not considered. At the least, it may make Prius driver feel a little less smug about their auto choice. At most, it may help viewers (managers among them) understand that sustainability is more complicated than a few consumer choices. It’s complicated stuff; that’s why we produced a special report on the business of sustainability.