This guest post was written by Jeffrey Hollender, Co-Founder and Executive Chairperson of Seventh Generation, in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.
TreeHugger: What are the major advances have you seen (in your field) during the past 40 years? What, if any, were the major failures?
Jeffrey Hollender: The single greatest advance I've seen is a rise in consciousness, specifically where systems thinking is concerned. Today, people are seeing the world more holistically than ever before.They're making much needed environmental connections to issues that once weren't considered part of that picture and learning to view our world as a single system. There's a greater appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things and of the fact that when we affect something we once thought was isolated, we're really affecting everything. This helps us understand the many unintended consequences of our growth and development. There have also been some exciting advances in sustainable technologies like renewable energy and energy conservation, and green chemistry. But their influence is generally overwhelmed by technologies that do more harm than good—like new ways to find oil, new petrochemicals, etc.
TH: What does a bright green future look like in this field?
JH: I'm not a big believer in utopias. I see life as an endless process of becoming in which we'll never be perfect and can always do more to build better companies and a better society. That said, I think Scandinavia may come as close as we're likely to get to an ideal vision. Countries there do things like make sure that women comprise at least 40% of public company boards; lessen the gap between rich and poor; generously support charities and international aid; and provide health care for everyone. In my own field, I'd like to see consumer product manufacturing follow the path of biomimicry and achieve a closed loop model in which the wastes of each process become the feedstocks for the next and the products we use actually enhance the environment. That might mean formulas made from 100% natural materials that are grown organically and are sold in biodegradable packaging you can feed to your garden. Or a cleaner that pulls toxins out of the air when it's sprayed. A green future will also build on full-cost accounting in which a company's "hidden" expenses like pollution and resource depletion aren't foisted onto taxpayers but paid for on corporate balance sheets.
TH: How would we realistically transition into that sort of ideal situation? That is, how should we move forward in this field to try to reach this goal?
JH: I've essentially decided to dedicate the rest of my life to bringing full-cost accounting (FCA) to our economic landscape so if I had that figured out, I'd have nothing to do! But I do think it starts with convincing companies that it's in their own best interests to adopt it. We live in a finite world with a limited amount of resources. FCA obviously strongly encourages the conservation of these resources and protects other forms of commonwealth as well. It also ensures that businesses take full financial responsibility for their negative externalities, like toxic waste, air and water pollution, and CO2 emissions. It's an ideal way to maintain control over decision-making before nature does it for us in the form of dwindling reserves like peak oil or a permanently degraded environment (neither of which are good for business), or governments institute the tough regulations that are surely coming if business doesn't clean up its act. It's also simply the right thing to do and something stakeholders are increasingly demanding. FCA will mean sustainable and responsible companies end up with happier customers, motivated and more productive employees, more cooperative NGOs, improved brand reputations, and other benefits will more than make up for the extra expense.