The StartupNation Blog Trends, tips and real-life anecdotes from industry experts

No Fish–> No Fishsticks

Almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. Worldwide about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone. More…

This made me think…how are countries coping with this, and are they working together? In an oceanography class I took in college, the teacher mentioned that the asian fisheries had thought tuna migrated one way, the US thought they migrated another way — the two had never put their maps together to understand the complete migration path of tuna and therefore overfished – affecting supply, demand and the fish population.

So Rich had a question a while back, that I happened to have myself: i wonder: are there certain industries that are more ammenable to social venturing? I myself added on: Is it all a fad?

Short answer: I don’t think so. (And yes, I have enough paper to tell you why.) :-)

A lecture junkie, I went to go see Peter Senge speak, dot-comers will know him by his book, The Fifth Discipline. He recently came out with a new one: The Necessary Revolution

The lecture began with a great quote:

If I reflect on what many organizations have been going through, the whole awareness of sustainability is growing because systems thinking in different forms is enabling us to see interdependencies that we have not seen in the past.

It is those interdependencies which make you conclude that it is more than stupid, it is reckless to think of commercial sustainability in isolation of either social or environmental sustainability.

–Andre van Heemstra, Unilever Management Board

The point here is that sustainability issues have been masked from us because the consequences happen somewhere else. Most people don’t realize that the price of corn has been falling for the past 50 years. For the first time in history, we (the people of the world) are truly living together. What we buy affects the lives of people on the other side of the planet. This has never happened before.

When Nike got hit with the child labor laws, they had little idea what was going on. Like many companies looking to keep up with demand in the most economical way possible, they were simply contracting out. How could they not know? It is the growing of systems thinking that allows us to think of these dependencies with any depth. Nike can now extend the area of the problem they are responsible for and think of the supplier they purchase from. The area of corporate responsibility may no longer end with whom they purchase from, but who their suppliers do business with, and so on. All this goes in “the systems box.”

Cocktail topic sure to excite (some): How much electricity share does the internet take up?
The figures used most often are “about 1.5%.”

By itself, that does not sound like a very high figure, or one we can easily toss off as “our grandkids can worry about that one, it’s gas we have to consider.”

Google doesn’t think so. Google is investing in alternative energy; the future of the internet might be tied to future of alternative energy. GE also thinks so. Why?

How much of our electricity is going to access the internet? About 3-5% – also not a huge concern until you consider the rate of growth. There are 6B people on this planet, 1B have access to internet. China alone doubles each year. In a decade, you are no longer at 3-5%..you are at 15% total electricity, 2 decades, this is a very big deal. Who is thinking about this – and do they get together ever?

We all need to be thinking about this. (and are starting to, see prior post on wanting a piece of the action.)

I have to confess that I’m surprising even myself here. Born on the east coast with a pretty solid, fiscally responsible vote; I find that over the last few years with each election I ask myself: Who is my brother’s keeper? And answering: 1991–>Not me, he’s on his own-I want a job but I’ll volunteer; 1996–>Still not me…the government already has programs for that, but I’ll still volunteer; 20002004–> Those government programs really aren’t doing the trick 2008–> I think I play a part in this (somehow).

We burn a lot more coal now than more ever and we should not be duped into thinking that the Industrial Age has been replaced by the Information Age. Nor should we sit in judgment of China and India for catching up to our consumptive ways. What they don’t realize are the neurosis that comes with the responsibility of maintaining high levels of productivity and manufacturing: depression, unconscious spending, obesity, alcoholism, additions…. They will get all the benefits of a free market society, just give it time. We just need to remember that for every time-saving, information device we plug in, a small puff of coal smoke goes up somewhere in the world to power that.

More and more orgs are figuring out how to “expand the systems box.” They are not considering this philanthropically, but for the future of the enterprise. What will shape how we engage in the market? It’s a different journey for each industry, for each business. But I do believe that it affects all industries in some fashion – they just aren’t widely written about yet.

Take the Hybrid Prius (which seems to be the official car of Seattle). The car gives you feedback on driving more efficiently and they are finding that it modifies customer behavior to be more efficient with their gas (just because they were gently reminded). What if everything we bought came with some extra info on how efficient we are with what we buy? It sounds a little tedious but certainly the absence of information leaves us living unconsciously and making choices that contribute to our current problem. Having information makes us conscious, aware, and naturally most folks want to do the right thing—for everyone.

Situations like the current gas crisis or the impending energy situation go from problems to opportunities for true innovation—and that is SO exciting!

Business is the most powerful institution in our society today, more powerful than government, so business leadership has to be included in the thinking of how the collective evolves.

About the Author: Christine Haskell

Christine is a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft with several years experience in the .com industry. She recently started social venture labs, an idea incubator for those leading small mission-driven businesses or organizations looking to create relationships, share ideas and [...]