Corporate survival strategies and the new Gold Standard

2011-09-27 00:00

I HAD the privilege of recently spending a day with Dr Ian McCallum (former Springbok rugby player, medical doctor, psychiatrist, poet and author of Ecological Intelligence) at the Wilderness Leadership School in Durban on a Train-the-Trainer workshop for Green Leaf™’s Eco-Leader Programme. The Green Leaf™ team offer corporates a life-changing day/night experience in a protected area nearest to your business: the focus being on instilling environmental values, environmental leadership and strategic environmental integration within your business.

There is no question that at the current rate of resource use and destruction, the planet cannot continue to sustain us and that we are going to have to learn to live differently. It all starts by thinking differently.

How did we get ourselves into this mess and where did it all go wrong? McCallum suggests it was on August 15, 1971, when, as a result of the fiscal strain of federal expenditures for the Vietnam War and persistent balance of payments deficits, President Richard Nixon took the United States off the Gold Standard and the direct convertibility of the dollar to gold ended, at which time nearly all nations had switched to fiat money through central banks. Fiat money is representative money that has value only because of government regulation or law and allows a government to manipulate or restrict the flow of commerce within its dominion. So in the past 50 years we have produced more, borrowed more (even to the detriment of the environment) leaving the banks with huge debts which in turn have elevated taxes and now threaten us all in our current economic climate where there is fear of another great depression.

Clearly an urgent change of behaviour is required and we need to create a new Gold Standard that is based on natural capital (water, food, sun and protected areas, etc.) which are measurable — for instance, CO2 is measured in parts per million.

We need to find a new direction and get back to basic survival strategies where we think biocentrically instead of anthropogenically. It’s the realisation that something else is more important than ourselves and what we take, we should give back. Companies need to be producing high-quality goods and services that are reliable and durable. Profit should not be the aim but rather a statement of consumer confidence.

Let My People Go Surfing is the story of a man, Yvon Chouinard, who founded Patagonia, Inc., one of the Earth’s most interesting and inspiring companies. For almost 40 years, its reputation for unsurpassed high-quality, maverick innovation, and long-term environmental responsibility have put it in a class by itself, and Chouinard is able to leverage his concern for the natural settings he’s spent a lifetime enjoying. His resolve to minimise Patagonia’s impact on the environment has led the company to make its famous fleeces out of recycled soda bottles and to donate at least one percent of its revenue each year to environmental causes, among many other things.

The Gold Standard Foundation is a non-profit organisation under Swiss law that operates a certification scheme for premium quality carbon credits. Spearheaded by local entrepreneur McWilliam Mabaso, a Malawian national, who lives in Johannesburg, a case study was recently run, the aim of which was to replace traditional three-stone open-fire cooking with fuel-efficient biomass cookstoves for impoverished schools in South Africa.

Although Thought Leadership is free, being an ambassador of change is difficult as we suffer the withdrawal symptoms of the convenient lives we have created.

• Karen Zunckel is a partner at the Hilton-based Zunckel Ecological & Environmental Services and is an independent consultant to the Wilderness Foundation’s Green Leaf Environmental Standard. This piece is the second in a series of articles that she is covering on corporate sustainability.

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