Can Corporations Make the Big Pivot?

  |   News, Writing   |   11 Comments

By Joe Brewer & Daniel Pinchbeck

Each year, the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego brings together 2000 leaders from around the world – men and women working to transform the role of business in society.  The most recent event, held at the Paradise Point Hotel at the beginning of June, featured representatives from large companies like Coca-Cola, Unilever, 3M, and Disney alongside a slew of innovative startups like Lyf Shoes and Back to the Roots, marketing and research firms, industrial design companies, and nonprofits on the forefront of ecological design. Both in official presentations and behind the scenes, the conversations focused on the need for business to adapt rapidly to address the world’s deepening ecological and social crises.

What was apparent at the SB conference is that our civilization is already in transition.  Sustainability experts in every sector of the corporate world work to transform their company cultures and unleash the power of business for social good.  The movement has gone beyond greenwashing or lip service.  Behind the scenes, product designers, marketing directors, investors, and business analysts held candid conversations about the need for a top-to-bottom redesign of the economy in the next decades, to prevent a devastating collapse.

The conference was marked by a new spirit of authentic engagement and willingness to innovate. Just a week after it ended, Tesla Motors open sourced all their patents to accelerate the spread of electric cars.  The global conglomerate Unilever has pushed back against “short-termism“, (no longer giving quarterly reports to the London Stock Exchange), and announced its Sustainable Living Plan as a core business strategy across all 200 of its brands.   Coca Cola announced the launch of the EKOCENTER Project that takes used shipping containers and turns them into portable community centers equipped with low-cost water purification systems, mobile wireless, electricity, vaccination storage and more.

ekocenter

Source: http://www.coca-colacompany.com/ekocenter

At the conference, the CEO of Desso, one of the largest textile manufacturers in the world for indoor carpeting, spoke about how they are taking William McDonogue’s concept of ‘cradle to cradle’ design to new heights.  Not only are they reusing 60% of all inputs for their global supply chain –a monumental feat of industrial design for this huge company — Desso is applying principles of biomimicry to indoor spaces, developing advanced materials that remove toxins from the air, as nature does.

In their own words, this is their core business strategy:

“Inspired by nature’s continuous cycle, this concept requires companies to use materials and design products in such a way that they will be positive to the environment and human health. In broad terms, this means using positively defined materials so that the goods can be returned and the materials recycled into new high quality products through two streams: technical or biological. In the former, the materials are fed back into the manufacturing process to make new goods; in the latter, they can go back as a nutrient into the soil.”

Featured speakers included Andrew Winston, a strategy consultant working with executive-level managers of Fortune100 companies.  His new book, The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World, was officially released from the main stage and given to all 2000 attendees, subsidized by Coca Cola.  Winston calls for “heretical innovation” to address the converging threats of planetary climate disruption, chronic resource scarcity, and radical openness in the new digital age.  In a language that business leaders understand — return on investment, market risk, value chains, and operational metrics — he makes the case for a quantum leap into the realm of regenerative economics and ecological design.  His may be the only Harvard Business Press book to call for corporate lobbyists to push for an end to oil subsidies, to demand a global carbon tax and government investments in renewable energy.

It is likely that none of these efforts go far enough.  Yet each example reveals new opportunities for activists and ecologists to work with the business community. Corporate leaders are increasingly willing to address critiques brought forth by environmentalists, social justice advocates, and recent social movements including Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring – all of which were discussed prominently at the conference.  It was surprising – and inspiring – to hear speakers on the main stage speak openly about Occupy, and the need for a strong and vibrant civil society.

C2C

source: http://www.rideforshift.com/initiatives/labels/cradle-to-cradle-eng/

During one memorable moment, Guardian editor Jo Confino spoke of the need for all of us to face the deep spiritual trauma that sustainability leaders must reckon with when they confront the severity of our ecological peril. Once we stop avoiding it, we can heal ourselves by becoming empowered change agents. That is the other side of the grieving process: the one that leads to direct action and seamless collaboration.

While corporations have caused a great deal of the damage, it is conceivable they can transform themselves to support a rapid evolution of global practices. As Daniel Pinchbeck discussed recently in Ever Conscious Manifesto (given out globally at H&M stores), multinational companies are the most powerful engines for planetary transformation that humanity has ever created. One could look at them as artificial life forms — made of legal code, ideas, supply chains, brand insignias, and so on — that we have injected into the artificial game we call the stock market. They are given only one prime directive: Maximize Shareholder Value. So this is what they seek to do, like robots.

More and more people both within and outside of these corporations are awakening to the realization that our current industrial practices, and our consumer society in general, threatens the immediate continuity of life on Earth.  Current IPCC Reports propose a four to six degree Celsius temperature rise by 2100 – ten or more degrees Fahrenheit. Many scientists believe the timeframe is a conservative estimate, because of many feedback loops in the climate system that work together. Anything close to this level of warming would be catastrophic for the world’s already strained biosphere. With such a rise in temperature, most of the plants that we currently depend upon for food would be unable to grow. Global civilization could devolve into forced depopulation and desperate wars over resources.

The fact that companies are recognizing the severity of the crisis and transforming some of their practices is a crucial development.  At this point, however, corporations are still locked into the short-term profit cycle. Winston, in his book, proposes corporations can “profit massively from the journey” toward sustainability. “The companies of the near-future will do many things differently to bring about, operate successfully within, and profit from a new reality.” His rhetoric makes sense as a strategy to inspire corporate participation. It is possible, however – if not unavoidable – that a deeper, systemic transformation of the economic paradigm needs to take place to support human continuity. This change must happen quickly.

Our current system requires constant growth — of economic transactions, consumerism, and GDP — to perpetuate itself. Despite efforts made by governments and corporations to become more sustainable, we still see CO2 emissions increasing around the world while the planet’s ecosystems break down. There doesn’t seem to be any way to radically address this without a new operating system for our political economy.

The deeper paradigm shift would be from competition to cooperation, or from late-stage capitalism to what John Boik of the Principled Societies Project calls “economic direct democracy.”  As part of this transition, corporations would have to transmute into efficient machines for reducing waste, enhancing biodiversity, and reversing climate change. They would have to conceive of “profit” differently. How could such a rapid and systemic change come about? Nobody knows for sure – but we may remember the 2014 Sustainable Brands Conference as one step toward the requisite metamorphosis.

SBBranded

Source: http://www.sustainablebrands.com/

Joe Brewer, Culture Designer

Joe has three bachelors degrees in physics, mathematics, and interdisciplinary studies and a masters in atmospheric sciences.  He is a complexity researcher, innovation strategist, experience designer, and serial social entrepreneur who brings a wealth of expertise to the adoption of sustainable solutions at the cultural scale. Among his notable achievements are the creation of an undergraduate degree program in Earth Systems, Environment and Society at the University of Illinois and design of new collaboration protocols for strategic communications among European NGO’s with WWF-UK and Oxfam, Great Britain.  He was an active member of the Center for Complex Systems Research from 2001 to 2005, where he studied pattern formation in self-organizing systems.  He was a research fellow at the Rockridge Institute in 2007-08 analyzing political discourse in the United States.  He contracted with the International Centre for Earth Simulation in Geneva in 2010-11 to help build a globally-focused high performance computing facility dedicated to holistic simulations of the dynamic Earth.  His experiences as a social entrepreneur and cross-disciplinary scholar weave together a combination of skills dedicated to open collaboration, interactive design, and empowered civic action for catalyzing change toward greater resilience in our turbulent world.

Featured Image: Cleantech, plan for an eco-business park in Singapore Source: Today

11 Comments
  • Paula Santa Rosa | Jun 28, 2014 at 1:48 am

    These are all amazing and much needed initiatives and I really like the idea of the corporation’s attitude being a potential accelerator to bring about this new reality. However, because they are still part of the stock market game, which is nothing but the reflection of the capitalist ideology system. I’m dubious about their ability to change it.

    • Joe Brewer | Jul 1, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Dear Paula,

      I share your concerns and see a need for deep structural change to move away from the corporate paradigm that can basically be described as “conquest, rape, and pillage”. What I’ve found in my work among social entrepreneurs is that the business world is vastly diverse and already populated with many examples of business structures and practices that benefit communities. What we need to do is help these models spread and take over — while marginalizing and dismantling the supports for the short-termist, profit-maximizing, ecologically destructive models that hold too much power in the grand scheme of things today.

      Not a small order! Yet I remain hopeful by the emerging trends and the prospects for shifting the dominant paradigm.

      Warmly,

      Joe Brewer
      Culture Designer

  • ediblesound | Aug 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Who is shortsided? Those vested via the holding of shares in corporations? Those deciding to send the market signal to such corporations that the product or service provided is sufficient to continue the demanded provision?

    If the peace of one is enough set an example, might the market signal mighty expression of a unit of demand via selection as expressed via the pivotal choices of one also sway even the most pervasive seeming stomping fortune 100, being the essential increment upon which all direction is ultimately hinged upon?

    I think information and the synthesis of inteligent discriminatory practices therefrom is one of the most crucial, critical and vital skills one develops, advocates, teaches, and subjects to continual critical reevaluative discernment of the degree of effectiveness of discernment, all canceling out to, adding up to and coming down to the supreme bottom line of the end-experiencer subjective and shared mutal (super-empathic) experience and the difference diverging across the instance of time and memory and heuristic record….

    it seems Choices have consequences, often reaching across the visible over the horizon of rational or reasonable or sensible expectation and calculation- but given that we exist and are aware to begin with- from this miraculous phenomenon beyond explanation dispelling all mystery, I believe sprouts an experience possible of the entelechy of supreme guiding intelligence comprising of all that is necessary to make the best possible decisions based on ascerntainment of present circumstances and the whole of motives involved, all that is necessary for the procession towards effective perfection ( that whichever sustains at minimum the connection to the source and that awareness ) availible in the ultra-compressed format of the innocent perception of pristine beauty and all-perfectly-considered efficency of the heart and the intuition sense thereof….

  • ediblesound | Aug 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Who is shortsided? Those vested via the holding of shares in corporations? Those deciding to send the market signal to such corporations that the product or service provided is sufficient to continue the demanded provision?

    If the peace of one is enough set an example, might the market signal mighty expression of a unit of demand via selection as expressed via the pivotal choices of one also sway even the most pervasive seeming stomping fortune 100, being the essential increment upon which all direction is ultimately hinged upon?

    I think information and the synthesis of inteligent discriminatory practices therefrom is one of the most crucial, critical and vital skills one develops, advocates, teaches, and subjects to continual critical reevaluative discernment of the degree of effectiveness of discernment, all canceling out to, adding up to and coming down to the supreme bottom line of the end-experiencer subjective and shared mutal (super-empathic) experience and the difference diverging across the instance of time and memory and heuristic record….

    it seems Choices have consequences, often reaching across the visible over the horizon of rational or reasonable or sensible expectation and calculation- but given that we exist and are aware to begin with- from this miraculous phenomenon beyond explanation dispelling all mystery, I believe sprouts an experience possible of the entelechy of supreme guiding intelligence comprising of all that is necessary to make the best possible decisions based on ascerntainment of present circumstances and the whole of motives involved, all that is necessary for the procession towards effective perfection ( that whichever sustains at minimum the connection to the source and that awareness ) availible in the ultra-compressed format of the innocent perception of pristine beauty and all-perfectly-considered efficency of the heart and the intuition sense thereof….

    the ultimate product and service provided is the chance of making the choice, among all that glitters, that is the gold if you can grasp it

  • ediblesound | Aug 6, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    (thus far preferred revisioning)
    Who is shortsighted? Those vested via the holding of shares in corporations? Those deciding to send the market signal to such corporations that the product or service provided is sufficient to continue the demanded provision?

    If the peace of one is enough to set an influential example, might the mighty market signal expression of a unit of demand via selection as expressed via the pivotal choices made by one also sway even the most pervasive seeming stomping glacial trend carving fortune 100, the selecting by one being the essential increment upon which all direction is ultimately hinged upon?

    I think information and the synthesis of intelligent discriminatory practices therefrom is one of the most crucial, critical and vital skills one develops, advocates, teaches, and subjects to continual critical reevaluative discernment of the degree of effectiveness of discernment to reach desired goals (of any “term”)– all canceling out to, adding up to and coming down to the supreme bottom line of the end-experiencer subjective and point of perspective ecstatically translucent in any emergent shared mutal (super-empathic) experience and the difference diverging across the instance of time and memory and heuristic record….

    it seems Choices have consequences, often reaching across the visible over the horizon of rational or reasonable or sensible expectation and calculation- but given that we exist and are aware to begin with- from this miraculous phenomenon beyond explanation dispelling all mystery, I believe sprouts an experience possible of the entelechy of supreme guiding intelligence comprising of all that is necessary to make the best possible decisions based on ascerntainment of present circumstances and the whole of motives involved, all that is necessary for the procession towards effective perfection ( that whichever sustains at minimum the connection to the source and that awareness ) availible in the ultra-compressed format of the innocent perception of pristine beauty and all-perfectly-considered efficency of the heart and the intuition sense thereof….

    the ultimate product and service provided is the chance of making the choice, among all that glitters, that is the gold if you can grasp it

    if the volition-based atomic indivisible point of perspective (autonomous self perception inclusive of whole “environment”) does not remain in all involvement with higher “trans-individual” systems of intelligence, then what exactly or in anyway is the point? Or perhaps more importantly, how would anything, how would any difference or meaning be experienced, known, and could this possible result in OR from the current ostensible existence in any way at all? Assuming all is possible- apparently it all superimpositionally (?) cancels out to this, until otherwise… so far and still…

  • ediblesound | Aug 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Who is shortsighted? Those vested via the holding of shares in corporations? Those deciding to send the market signal to such corporations that the product or service provided is sufficient to continue the demanded provision?

    If the peace of one is enough to set an influential example, might the mighty market signal expression of a unit of demand via selection as expressed via the pivotal choices made by one also sway even the most pervasive seeming stomping glacial trend carving fortune 100, the selecting by one being the essential increment upon which all direction is ultimately hinged upon?

    I think information and the synthesis of intelligent discriminatory practices therefrom is one of the most crucial, critical and vital skills one develops, advocates, teaches, and subjects to continual critical reevaluative discernment of the degree of effectiveness of discernment to reach desired goals (of any “term”)– all canceling out to, adding up to and coming down to the supreme bottom line of the end-experiencer subjective and point of perspective ecstatically translucent in any emergent shared mutal (super-empathic) experience and the difference diverging across the instance of time and memory and heuristic record….

    it seems Choices have consequences, often reaching across the visible over the horizon of rational or reasonable or sensible expectation and calculation- but given that we exist and are aware to begin with- from this miraculous phenomenon beyond explanation dispelling all mystery, I believe sprouts an experience possible of the entelechy of supreme guiding intelligence comprising of all that is necessary to make the best possible decisions based on ascerntainment of present circumstances and the whole of motives involved, all that is necessary for the procession towards effective perfection ( that whichever sustains at minimum the connection to the source and that awareness ) availible in the ultra-compressed format of the innocent perception of pristine beauty and all-perfectly-considered efficency of the heart and the intuition sense thereof….

    the ultimate product and service provided is the chance of making the choice, among all that glitters, that is the gold if you can grasp it

    if the volition-based atomic indivisible point of perspective (autonomous self perception inclusive of whole “environment”) does not remain in all involvement with higher “trans-individual” systems of intelligence, then what exactly or in anyway is the point?;– Or perhaps more importantly, how would anything, how would any difference or meaning be experienced, -be known, and how could this ever possibly result in OR from the current ostensible existence in any way at all? Assuming all and all variation is coincidentally OR seqentially possible- apparently it all superimpositionally (?) cancels out to this at the moment, naturally until any observation of otherwise… so far and still…

    Just how vast is the oclusion of any of all from the point of view of one; can a point of view merge and retain relevance to any experienceable?

    If anything matters, Why? And To whom? Can altruism be without experience? How selfish ultimately is the vanity of of companionship anyways? How treacherous is the love of, the honor in, the absence and freedom found with the majesty of being friend with the lingering expectation that grows from reciprocallity; and yet- how- if anything is, divine beyond comprehension, the look beyond derision, beyond judgment, beyond any need for understanding, the empathogen of inextortable synergy dissapating the last of any burden…..?

  • ediblesound | Aug 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Who is shortsighted? Those vested via the holding of shares in corporations? Those deciding to send the market signal to such corporations that the product or service provided is sufficient to continue the demanded provision?

    If the peace of one is enough to set an influential example, might the mighty market signal expression of a unit of demand via selection as expressed via the pivotal choices made by one also sway even the most pervasive seeming stomping glacial trend carving fortune 100, the selecting by one being the essential increment upon which all direction is ultimately hinged upon?

    I think information and the synthesis of intelligent discriminatory practices therefrom is one of the most crucial, critical and vital skills one develops, advocates, teaches, and subjects to continual critical reevaluative discernment of the degree of effectiveness of discernment to reach desired goals (of any “term”)– all canceling out to, adding up to and coming down to the supreme bottom line of the end-experiencer subjective and point of perspective ecstatically translucent in any emergent shared mutal (super-empathic) experience and the difference diverging across the instance of time and memory and heuristic record….

    it seems Choices have consequences, often reaching across the visible over the horizon of rational or reasonable or sensible expectation and calculation- but given that we exist and are aware to begin with- from this miraculous phenomenon beyond explanation dispelling all mystery, I believe sprouts an experience possible of the entelechy of supreme guiding intelligence comprising of all that is necessary to make the best possible decisions based on ascerntainment of present circumstances and the whole of motives involved, all that is necessary for the procession towards effective perfection ( that whichever sustains at minimum the connection to the source and that awareness ) availible in the ultra-compressed format of the innocent perception of pristine beauty and all-perfectly-considered efficency of the heart and the intuition sense thereof….

    the ultimate product and service provided is the chance of making the choice, among all that glitters, that is the gold if you can grasp it

    if the volition-based atomic indivisible point of perspective (autonomous self perception inclusive of whole “environment”) does not remain in all involvement with higher “trans-individual” systems of intelligence, then what exactly or in anyway is the point?;– Or perhaps more importantly, how would anything, how would any difference or meaning be experienced, -be known, and how could this ever possibly result in OR from the current ostensible existence in any way at all? Assuming all and all variation is coincidentally OR seqentially possible- apparently it all superimpositionally (?) cancels out to this at the moment, naturally until any observation of otherwise… so far and still…

    Just how vast is the oclusion of any of all from the point of view of one; can a point of view merge and retain relevance to any experienceable?

    If anything matters, Why? And To whom? Can altruism be without experience? How selfish ultimately is the vanity of non-compromising companionship anyways? (how deep can the promise go?) How treacherous is the love of, the honor in, the absence and freedom found with the majesty of being friend with the lingering expectation that grows from reciprocallity; and yet- how- if anything is, divine beyond comprehension, the look beyond derision, beyond judgment, beyond any need for understanding, the empathogen of inextortable synergy dissapating the last of any burden…..? To Look beyond within- where the ends meet in the meanest means of compassion…

  • ediblesound | Aug 9, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Power I have noticed seems typically to naturally sit where it is most effective, this is I think obviously because those that effectively use it use it effectively! Naturally!

    Problematic for people I think is when or in the yeilding over of innate power to percieved arrangements, structures, organisations which are the product and facilitation OF intelligence, where such power originates—,and yet these percieved arrangings are yet without any intelligence or power of their own!!!!! ANd they naturally have no life or intelligence, and certainly ultimately have no power over any source of power, over any organizer and perciever and arranger, any experiencer…

    ( so- as it seems the material world is alive whole and complicitly as a marvelous organic universal process, what is the life and intelligence we see in it but anything other than us LOOKING UPON IT? the zen reflection- all for thee!)

    Where power is innate only to intelligence, as even when by proxy it seems to be exerted by non-natural-individual organisations ( the arrangements set in motion BY intelligence, BY natural individual autonomous perception,) this effect IS ONLY REALIZED WHEN EXPERIENCED BY AN EXPERIENCING NATURAL LIVING INTELLIGENCE, precisely where from, generally and specifically in degree of involvement measure – precisely wherefrom this very power originates!

    And say if all the arrangements were changed to precisely how you think they should or best “ought” to be, I may contend or suggest that, without a relevant ( and even requisite for sustainability) matching change in the – in all the experiencers, the those with the ultimate –generally, and-, –measured in degree of specific involvement– specifically— power ( so heavily lent perhaps it may be in many ways one may look) — I ask- How long would any such changes last?

    And who can actually TECHNICALLY change the heart but they who experience and exercise the POWER THEREOF?

    For sustainable ultimate efficiency and ergonomics seems to neccessarily INCLUDE THAT ONE MOST PRECIOUS OF “RESOURCES”, The very most irreplaceable, non-fungible, non-transferable core of all, that of the wrought sustainibility accessible only via the choice made by any individual, and made individually; and made by any circle of any many thereof—sharing reality— and made together;–, and the discernable difference experienced by these, across perception of incremental instance of eternities, this difference literally actuated by this precious resource of the power of choice and potential voluntary collusion or the vast variety of the degree thereof ——- for what would reality -if there could be any existence at all- be at all to begin with –without this grand interacting of multiperspective multi-willed matrix of mutual experience and choice?—- and would perfection be worth anything – let alone experienceable without perfect freedom to offset the very realization of such perfection and give points of reference to make possible any recognition of the difference thereof, !?

    quite a grand scheme!

    Heard today a clothing designer quote something like ” if I can convince you not to write- then you are not a writer”

    And I’ften thought about the sense of mass and momentum in ( the making of choices in life- and in changing things which seem to “have a life of their own”, the sense of powerlessness- the sense of effective delegation to the brilliance of the universe knowing itself better than I think I know anything- and the faith to ask how “matter” can do what I am trying to do better and more efficiently than heuristic brute guessing or calculating I would plan and expect from such dreary limitied particulate awareness and atomic accounting….. life)- in how ironic it can appear- that if you were going to do it- you would already be doing it… The fine opportunity in life seems to be this focal interface where that inertia is grappled with- not overcome- but actually utilized with practice, passion, mastery (??!!) and one it seems learns how to effectively arrange and design continuance of life through interaction with the multitude of various structures and arrangements –with their mass and drag and all that,– where we can first hand (pun?) experience the effect of this intelligence of being able to percieve and arrange and see—exPERience— that effect ripple and roll forth in the “material” ostensible interference field which is probably literally entirely constituted and composed of precisely this interacting trickles, ripples and rolling waves— from the majesty of the galaxies to the emotions/reciprocations — however relevant— of the living organisms in the yogurt, etc. ……

  • ediblesound | Aug 9, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Might it be a bit like cleaning up the articles and toys and things busily strewn about in quite the mess across the busy room all day, towards expectation of a calm period of the little one’s activity, just for the new next mess to naturally evolve again in moments or upon activities of the next day?

  • ediblesound | Aug 9, 2014 at 8:59 am

    “interacting trickles”
    ->
    interacting of trickles

  • ediblesound | Aug 10, 2014 at 1:58 am

    looking at the beautiful symmetry of a spider, shouting out “so beautiful” and then looking up at the ceiling, seeing all the right angles and next thought the regimentation of society- and do the walls we live in lead to the walls we follow and believe in our minds, and in our courts and halls of big decisions….?

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