Hunter Lovins, Exhibit A

Those of you who know C’cracy founder and editor-in-chief Libby Murphy likely know that in addition to being an all-around stud she is currently in the midst of pursuing a business degree through Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability program.  Last Wednesday, Libby gave me a heads up that one of her professors happened to be in DC giving a talk.  I later found out that this particular professor also happened to be the woman who co-wrote what is more or less the Bible of Green Business.

There are people on both sides of the philosophical lexicon who would view that very term as somewhat of an oxymoron.  Let’s table that for now.  Because as I sat and listened to Hunter Lovins rattle off example after example of how companies that embrace sustainability are becoming leaner, more efficient, and ultimately more profitable, a budding belief of mine that most of our country’s energy and environmental debates completely miss the point of what we really should be talking about turned into something resembling a total conviction.

Some people really, legitimately care about protecting the environment.  I count myself as one of them.  For people who are not so inclined, I think this sums it up nicely.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, however, what rings loudest when one listens to Ms. Lovins is the necessity of embracing an outlook that we’re all in this together.  Business, government, environmentalists… it’s not about who’s at fault, and those of us who frame climate change as a matter of merely staving off environmental catastrophe miss the mark as well.  Because it’s also not about what we can prevent, it’s about what we can create, and if that something is going to be anything good it’s going to take all of us working together to create it.

That’s why the more savvy among our country’s business leaders view doing right by the planet not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity.  It’s no accident that when Goldman Sachs identified a series of corporate sustainability, social, and good governance indicators, companies meeting those criteria outperformed their baseline counterparts by 25 percent.  To paraphrase Ms. Lovins, we can continue viewing our environmental challenges as a cost to be externalized… but we’re running out of places to externalize them.

Ultimately sustainability is about maximizing the efficiency of everything we use.  Local resources, national resources, global resources.  Everything.  In a country famous for harnessing the power of free market capitalism, dependent as it is on celebrating economic efficiency, it’s really quite remarkable when you consider the hostility of some toward radically increasing the efficiency of our non-financial resources.  But efficiency will always yield economic benefits to those savvy enough to embrace it.  There was a time when the mechanizers of agriculture and the proponents of burning petroleum instead of whale oil where called crazy.  Ask John D. Rockefeller how that turned out.

No one said that any of this is going to be easy, but when we think in terms of maximizing the efficiency of our resources, and institutionalize these sorts of mindsets, this is what leads to the sort of innovating that drives the whole process inexorably forward.  The avalanche of evidence in favor of the for-profit entities that have already harnessed sustainability to their advantage should be reason enough to make even greater leaps.

For more facts on sustainability, check out this chat Libby posted this afternoon between Hunter and the folks representing GE’s ecomagination initiative:

It’s a useful primer on the sorts of changes upon which businesses are already beginning to capitalize, and elaborates a bit on what Ms. Lovins discussed at the event I attended.

I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did.

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