Monday, July 04, 2011

Toward an earth-friendlier ethic

I had the chance June 16 to speak about our Go Green Britt approach at the Globe Conference Costa Rica 2011 ( For about 20 years now, these conferences have been bringing business leaders together with government officials to talk about the environment. This time around, the conference focused on how to move more quickly toward a low-carbon economy. I took part in a panel that discussed how companies can help the economies of our countries become more environmentally friendly.

I described for the group some of the many things we do at Britt to foster a healthy environment, especially during the month of June, when we celebrate Environment Month. We encourage our suppliers and customers to get involved in our efforts. For example, at the Central Pacific beach community of Manuel Antonio, many of our customers are local hotels and restaurants. The town is the site of a like-named national park and much tourist activity. In early July, we'll work together on a project to reforest the banks of an area river. But all that aside, I think the time has come for a new business ethic that takes into account the interests of future generations. It's been my experience that our children are our biggest motivation to get out of our comfort zones, change our way of thinking and work toward a healthier environment. We think about all the natural beauty that we enjoy. We want it to be part of our children's future, but it may not be if we don't act responsibly today.

The best way to take to heart the destructive side effects of modern life is simply to think about those who'll come after us. Using economic jargon, this approach can help businesses internalize some of the externalities created by modern life including its current business models.

A few weeks ago, The Economist, a British magazine, ran a cover story on how the geologists of the future would likely consider our current era the "Age of Man" (Anthropocene), due to the great changes that humans have inflicted on the planet. Many of these changes are irreversible. The fact that a magazine normally focused on provable economic themes would dedicate so much space to the topic is significant in itself. That this magazine views man's impact on the planet as worrisome and issues a call to action is a step in the right direction. It urges us to better understand our actions and "manage" them for the good of the planet.

The marketplace doesn't yet offer enough incentive for companies to give environmental matters the priority they deserve.

Consumers aren't necessarily willing to pay extra for environmentally sound goods and services. We saw that some 20 years ago, when we practically reinvented Costa Rica's coffee-industry rulebook to create and sell an all-organic coffee.

Managers today are under far less pressure from their companies and shareholders to produce environmental results that are as exacting and urgent as their financial results. A company's poor environmental performance usually doesn't influence the value of its stock in the public markets, except when a catastrophe like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico takes place.

Until the market steps up, it's imperative that we business people develop and embrace a new business ethic that views ourselves as stewards of the earth, not exploiters who exhaust all its resources.

This ethic would be one that allows the voices of our children, grandchildren and all those who follow to be heard.

Until next time,


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