From offering carbon neutral shipping or purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), concern about climate change has lead many businesses to seek cost-effective ways of supporting clean energy. But these off-site, paper-only deals will do little good for a business if the shit really hits the fan. As we referenced in our live chat with Nafeez Ahmed on the Crisis of Civilization yesterday, from peak oil and climate change to food security and terrorism, our economic system faces existential threats that businesses would do well to plan for.
Access to (Clean) Energy Will Be Key
IKEA, on the other hand, has been buying up entire wind farms and installing solar on its stores. Apple is planning to build energy-independent company headquarters. And even my local mechanic shop has installed solar panels. These businesses now have an in-built hedge against future energy costs.
Just as green building is giving way to resilient building, maybe it's time that green business gave way to a focus on resilience.
Resilience, of course, is about much more than solar panels and renewable energy, and big box retail will have to overcome greater challenges than simply sticking some solar on the roof. But the examples above illustrate the gulf between mainstream sustainability's quest for cost-effective carbon cuts, versus a more fundamental rethink of how businesses deals with risk and instability.
So what does a truly resilient business look like?
Rethinking the Basics
From Patagonia's plea to not buy their jackets to the rise of distributed power generation, there are tantalizing signs that some businesses are willing to engage with the idea that our future will look nothing like our past.
Building Resilient Networks
TS Designs' Cotton of the Carolinas program, for example, has revived an entire localized industry of cotton growing and processing in North Carolina, supporting over 700 jobs and even reintroducing organic cultivation in a State where farmers said it couldn't be done. Crucially, this program was not just conceived as an exercise in social responsibility—but rather it was born from a recognition that cheap oil can't last, that communities have been decimated by globalization, and that we have no choice but to relocalize much of our economy in the coming decades. (TS Designs has also installed solar panels; bee hives; a biodiesel coop and staff gardens at its headquarters.)
We Need More Lobbyists (Really)
Resilience, though, cannot begin or end at the factory gate or office lobby. Just like individual lifestyle choices must play into bigger cultural shifts and community resilience, so too businesses have to view themselves as agents in our collective survival. That's why Richard Branson's involvement in pushing legislators to take on peak oil is so important, and it's why Google channeling funds into distributed power generation can only be a very good thing.
Will Businesses Rethink Capitalism?
But the proof will be in if and how businesses—large and small—are willing to start rethinking the fundamentals of economic growth or empowering employees to engage in the plenitude economy.
Some are already doing just that. Who would have thought that we'd see bank ads decrying greed and demanding more happiness, for example? But will such behavior catch on with the mainstream? It's in the businesses' own best interests that it does.
Nobody knows what our future holds for us, but it seems fair to say that it will be a challenging one. Whether businesses can ride out the changes that are coming, or whether they become obsolete relics of a bygone era, will depend on their ability to ask the big questions, and their willingness to act on the answers.
May we live in interesting times.