Sustainability Sneaks Into US Board Rooms, Rolls Off The Tongue Like A Bad Joke

Voyageur boardroom photo

Voyageur Boardroom. Image credit:Ocean Meetings.

Writing for TreeHugger, I see dozens of 'green product' press releases per day. Many from big-name ad agencies. Yesterday there was one touting an "ecologically sustainable" double-barreled veeblefetzer (actual product name withheld to protect the innocents). By inference, there must exist sustainable products which are less "ecological." Not sure which would be superior, really. Next time I attend a Tea Party rally I will ask around to see if they have it figured out. Really could use some help with this.

You would think that loose talk of sustainability in a board room presentation would be a career-limiting move for a VP. Apparently not.Environmental Leader has published a report on the findings of a survey regarding how and why corporations have chosen to implement "enterprise sustainability" programs. Here is my favorite finding. 2008 just 11 percent of manufacturers cited compliance with regulatory requirements as a top driver [for enterprise sustainability efforts], but now 27 percent list compliance as a top driver.
So...a quarter of corporate leaders surveyed thought that obeying environmental laws and regulations makes them sustainable?

This idea opens up a wonderful strategic opportunity. To become "sustainable" in the public eye, corporations can outsource manufacturing to China, where environmental and safety laws and regs, such as they are, are seldom enforced, and where US customers can't see what's going on anyway.

The children of poor peasant farmers will be able to move to the industrial heartlands of China and send their savings back to the family farm. That's satisfying sustainability's third leg right? Plus, they won't have to pay those Union guys so much back in Ohio.

Wait...they already did that?

By now, hopefully, you got my drift. Sustainability is simply not in the US corporate lexicon and ad agencies are absolutely slaughtering the concept as they try to shovel it in. Give them a few more months and the term will be of zero meaning and value. So, just let's drop it.

Better for corporations to keep a 'balanced scorecard' which includes safe work practices and a living wage for full time and contract workers, manage for long range profitability, work to bring occupational hazards to zero, and increase resource efficiency in all operations. It goes without saying that compliance with laws and regulations are the minimum entry level requirement - in all countries of operation, and regardless of enforcement.

Something tells me the driver for much of this hooey is all those recently hired VP's of Sustainable Development trying to justify their existence.

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