“Someday, people like me will go to jail.”

November 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

“Theft is a crime, and theft of our children’s future [will] someday be a crime”

It may seem like old news, but this TED talk by former Interface CEO Ray Anderson has lasting meaning that continues to increase exponentially, year after year. Even after his death this August, Anderson’s legacy of sustainable production lives on.

Though I highly recommend taking the time out of your day to watch the video, here’s a quick summary before I get on to the main point:

>In 1973, Anderson founded Interface, America‘s first free-lay carpet company

>In 1994, Anderson read The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken, inspiring him to make his company sustainable

>In 1997, Anderson and Interface begin “Mission Zero,” which intends to have the company completely waste free by 2020

Anderson’s work is not only significant because of what he has done with sustainability, but also because of who he is. The significance of a major CEO working so tirelessly to improve our planet says a lot about what everyone else can do. Another quote from the video exemplifies this perfectly:

“If it exists, then it must be possible”

Anderson’s point is that if one corporate CEO is able to not just turn his company green, but to make it a better business because of its sustainability, then why couldn’t every other CEO do this? He cites many statistics in his speech about how being environmentally sustainable has made his company more desirable and therefore more profitable, and even how it saved his company during a recession in the early 2000’s. Why other CEOs have not seen the benefits will continue to baffle me.

I want to take some time to also talk about the Ehrlich equation, which Anderson spends a bit of time on in the video.

Again, for those of you who skipped the video, the equation measures environmental impact (I) in terms of Population (P), Affluence (A, usually measured in GDP or GDP per capita) and Technology (T, usually measured in waste or greenhouse gas emissions), leading to the equation:

I = P x A x T

By this measure, as our society grows in size, as its GDP increases, and as technology gets more energy dependent, more wasteful, and more polluting, the environmental impact becomes increasingly dangerous.

Most theorists agree with Anderson’s conjecture that in order to decrease impact, the ideal first step is to begin decreasing the impact of technology. According to recent statistics, this is occurring, but in order to truly have an impact, technology needs to halve every time population doubles, something which is quite far from happening at this point.

The usual suggestions can be given to decrease T: Impose restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, require recycling, find renewable energy, etc. But what I found most interesting of Anderson’s argument is his proposal of a new version of the equation, which would be:

I = (P x a) / (T x H)

Essentially, Anderson proposes 3 things. First, he wants the significance of affluence to decrease significantly, as represented by the lowercase rather than uppercase “a.” Second, he suggests that technology needs to reach a point where it is only helping the environment, symbolized by its movement the denominator of the equation.

The third and final proposal he makes is the one I want to spend the most time on. Anderson proposed the Happiness, specifically happiness with having less. I find this idea intriguing, due to his vagueness. “Happiness with less” – what exactly does that entail?

It could mean taking a traditional environmentalist approach, involving sacrifice of many material goods, and often a turn to vegetarianism or veganism in exchange for a smaller environmental impact and therefore “happiness.” However, both Anderson and myself are people who believe that people shouldn’t have to make grand sacrifices for the sake of sustainability, this doesn’t seem

So what else could “happiness with less” be?

I think “happiness with less” is finding a balance between our consumerist desires and our ambition to save the environment. We don’t need to give up all of the comforts of technology in order to live sustainable lives. We just need to buy ecologically friendly, sustainable products in place of certain products available today. Instead of buying PET water bottles, buy a reusable bottle. You’ll have “less” in terms of material wealth – sure, you’ll have to fill up your bottle all the time – but you’ll have more money in your pocket, and you can be just as happy as with your other water bottles. This goes the same for exchanging reusable bags for plastics bags, turning the water off while brushing your teeth, etc. You can sacrifice the smallest bit of convenience, in exchange for a significant decrease in environmental impact. This is “happiness with less,” a little less convenience, but a whole lot of everything else.

Any questions, comments, concerns about anything discussed here? Let me know!


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