I am embarrassed to admit that at the conclusion of my environmental science class in high school, my thoughts were consumed by how to suppress the devastating facts I’d just learned. I had been taught about how our consumption of greenhouse gases was destroying entire ecosystems, causing the mass extinction of animals, disproportionately harming poorer nations and communities, and I had been fed grim predictions for the future of our planet. What I had not been taught, however, was how to prevent this dismal destiny. I had not been taught about the companies bringing solar energy to remote villages, or the advances in plant-based food production, or the resiliency species displayed when hunting regulations afforded them the chance to repopulate.
This is not to say that we should coddle students, plucking out examples of advances in sustainability to paint a rosy picture of the planet’s future, yet we also must not be scaring them into resignation. I spent the first part of my college career believing that since my interest was not in science, I could not be a part of the climate solution. It did not become evident to me for some time that it would be a fool's errand to address any of the issues I am interested in, whether it be inequality, public policy, human rights, or development, without simultaneously confronting the climate crisis. It is not a noble or ethical decision to incorporate sustainability into any field of work – it is a logical one.
The film Our Planet, Our Business makes that point abundantly clear. Two interviews in the film really resonated with me – one with a Canadian fisherman and one with a Texan mayor, who both explain protecting the planet as a purely logical business decision. In America, climate change has been branded as an issue point of the far left, a point of contention on par with abortion or welfare that the left and right squabble over. Images of icecaps the size of Manhattan skyscrapers crashing into the ocean or sloths clinging onto
a lone tree amid the wasteland of a former forest are used to appeal to our pathos. Yet this strategy has failed to mobilize the majority of people, and it will continue to fail.
Climate change is not a moral issue nor an issue that can be relegated to a certain field. Rather, it is a reality that will permeate every aspect of the business world and as such, it is purely a logical decision to confront it. While businesses have long been the enemies of sustainability, they have the power to be its champions. As Our Planet, Our Business explains, the same innovation and speed that the business sector infused into the Industrial, Technological, and Digital Revolutions can be harnessed into the Green Revolution. This requires a complete shift in the way we approach the purpose and actions of businesses – it’s not enough to just tack on a CSR team or adopt a trendy sustainability motto and call it a day. What, then, is enough?
I stumbled across the answer to this question a few months ago when I discovered Single Organizing Idea and began my internship with them. At first, I worried that their plan to reorganize a business's strategies and operations around a sustainable idea was just another untested framework, albeit an intriguing one. It didn’t take more than a few minutes of research to realize that was not the case. They didn’t have some lofty, nebulous idea for an ideal business world that was out of reach, instead they had spent years developing precise, proven tools to help companies identify, define and align with their SOI®. Their goal is simple: accelerate progress. And they understand the way to do this is by providing businesses with the tools and technology they need to discover their precise, sustainable potential, and then transition to it.
This transition is not only a demand of our planet, it is one of customers too. Millennials expect more from businesses – our generation represents a fundamental shift in seeing businesses’ sole imperative as wealth creation to expecting businesses to deliver some form of social impact. The prevalent misconception is that pursuing the latter requires abandoning the former. Single Organizing Idea is chipping away at that belief, proving that operating at the intersection of growth and social impact provides benefits to all. There does not have to be a trade-off.
There are countless inspiring young people – the Greta Thunberg’s of the world – who see and feel climate change at a visceral level; they are fighting to save our dying planet with a level of tenacity and vehemence many could only fight for a loved one with. While their efforts are significant, we cannot rely on them. They will not be enough. A crisis of this magnitude requires the innovation, speed, resources, and creativity of the entire business sector. As Our Planet, Our Business explains, humans are the greatest problem solvers this world has ever known. Our job is simply to provide them with the direction and tools to solve our greatest problem.
Larkin Dennison is an SOI Ltd research intern. She is currently reading Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley