Only a radical re-orientation of our relationship to ourselves and Nature can put sustainable business on the right track - instead of just slowing our march in the wrong direction.
By Giles Hutchins
Is it good news that our debt fuelled, quantitatively-eased economy lurches forward without due consideration for the rightness of its path? Have we become addicted to a pathway that undermines our very evolution? Are our sustainable business initiatives optimizing inherently unsustainable strategies? As “wise” Homo sapiens, would it not be sensible to go upstream and identify, understand and then rectify the root source of our multiple crises – economic, social and environmental?
Four Necessary Questions for Sustainable Business Leaders
In these pivotal times for humanity, the questions run deep; tough times demand tough talk and action. It is with this in mind that I posed four succinct yet deep questions to a number of recognized sustainable business thought leaders and change agents. It can be a challenge to catch our breath, pause and reflect on deep questions when we are busy at the coal face, yet many experts took time to formulate and share a considered response as we gather at the threshold of paradigmatic transformation.
Here are the four questions with some highlights of the responses, along with some timeless quotes:
Question 1: Does Nature Have a Purpose; If So, What?
If we look at Nature scientifically as the system of interconnected biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) elements on the Earth, then the purpose of Nature is simply to perpetuate. However, if we consider Nature philosophically or spiritually as something far beyond a collection of physical/biological components, then the purpose of Nature may also be far beyond our understanding. Perhaps that is one of Nature’s purposes: to help us recognize our hubris.
Nature just “is:” it has no objective purpose, but its jaw-dropping richness and diversity affords us an almost infinite range of opportunities, starting with our own existence.
Nature's purpose is creativity and exploration. Her dynamic seems to involve a constant letting go and letting come.
Nature teaches us how to live, thrive, survive and behave.
Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result…. The moral influence of nature upon every individual is that amount of truth which it illustrates to him. Who can estimate this? Who can guess how much firmness the sea-beaten rock has taught the fisherman? (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Question 2: Does Humanity Have a Purpose; If So, What?
To be conscious of all that is around us.
Goethe’s idea of humans as the organs of perception of the universe is an appropriate idea for us.
To undertake the journey that T. S. Eliot so eloquently expressed with these words: We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of our exploring we shall arrive at the start and know it for the first time.
Humanity's purpose is to be a servant to life’s ability to flourish. At this we've been failing miserably.
To respect and create harmony with Nature, thinking of at least the next seven generations.
Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law my services are bound. (William Shakespeare)
Question 3: How Would You Describe Humanity’s Current Relationship with Nature?
Disrespectful, careless, short sighted and destructive.
Confused and confusing because we have lost the love for our fellow travelers.
In transition. Shifting from hubris to humility is difficult.
Nature is our mother and we at best ignore and take her for granted, and at worst traumatize, damage and repeatedly rape her.
We need to challenge our arrogance once and for all and ask how we can re-create balance and harmony within ourselves first - then work to bring ourselves in balance and harmony with Nature.
Our sense of separation from nature corrupts us, it fuels an arrogance a hubris whereupon common sense becomes insanity. (Gregory Bateson)
Question 4: How Would You Describe Your Personal Relationship with Nature?
Loving, inconsistent, appreciative, compromised, soulful, arrogant.
One of awe, wonderment and endless study.
It requires mindful nurturing. When highly attuned it is a healing experience, enriching and uplifting.
Nature is my muse, inspiration and companion.
Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity ... and some scarce see Nature at all. But, to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is imagination itself. (William Blake)
Slowing Down the Bus in the Wrong Direction
It has been said before that many of today’s sustainable business initiatives are like slowing down a bus going in the wrong direction; and this in itself can be an important first step in our dawning realization that a new way of operating is not just desirable but an ever-pressing requirement.
Yet so often we continue to busy ourselves with keeping the bus moving, finding it “irrelevant,” “distracting” or even “backward” to look beyond our abstract delusion of being separate from and in competition with each other and Nature. It continues to be the exception rather than the rule to engage with a business mind that finds the time to deeply attune with Nature.
To be truly sustainable – individually and collectively – we need to go upstream and deal with our damaging behavior at its source, by attending to life here and now in a balanced, unpolluted way. Eastern philosophy holds that the natural world is already in harmony, and that it is the over-exertion of our ego-driven will that disturbs this harmony. If we are not in dynamic harmony then it’s likely we will act in ways that are ultimately harmful to ourselves, other people and the rest of Nature.
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things. (Lao Tzu)
The more we attune with our inner and outer nature, the more we realize the immense inspiration for transformation: the answers to our pressing challenges are all around and within us if we allow ourselves to tune in.
Going to the Root: Attune with Life
Many organizations today of all shapes and sizes are waking up to Nature’s inspiration; applied approaches being biomimicry, circular economy, eco-literacy, cradle-to-cradle and permaculture amongst others. Yet, so often we tack on these nature-inspired approaches without addressing our underlying relationship with life: Self-Other-Nature. In so doing, we miss the fundamental opportunity to rectify our unbalanced way of relating in business and beyond. We deal with effects while leaving the root cause gaping.
Authentic leaders of truly sustainable business transformations are ones that seek not just to regulate and curb our selfish and life-destructive behaviour but to deeply understand and attune with life in a mutually inclusive way. True sustainable business is not a form of bondage or restriction to business; it is the spring from which good business sense flows.
He who is in harmony with Nature hits the mark without effort and apprehends the truth without thinking. (Confucius)
The word “radical” originates from the Latin for root. The paradigm shift now upon us has to go to the root source of our unsustainable ways of operating and so be radical -- philosophically, scientifically, culturally and economically.
“Radical sustainability,” therefore, has a primary aim of encouraging our individual and collective “becoming” through a soundly reasoned and deeply empathic understanding of Self-Other-Nature. In the words of Gregory Bateson, “this should be done by the processes of education and character formation.”
In the main, current economic-social-political governance is orientated for control and suppression. This can, and must, be transformed into education-based facilitations that inspire rather than suppress our attunement with Self-Other-Nature; helping us become truly wise, sustainable humans.
Competitive | Participatory
Materialistic | Soulful
Ego as master | Ego as assistant
Separation | Inclusion
Narcissistic | Empathic
Dominator | Partner
Patriarchy | Reciprocity
From this foundation sustainable business naturally flows. As leaders and change agents seeking a brighter future, we may ask ourselves: Has the time come to be radical?
For a full set of responses to the above questions please visit www.thenatureofbusiness.org.
About the Author:
Giles Hutchins, The Nature of Business author, thought leader, guest lecturer, sustainability strategy consultant, business innovation specialist and futurist, has over 15 years of business and IT transformation experience with KPMG and Atos International. He is also the co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation.