Monday, October 13, 2008

Toward Sustainability: Obligation to Opportunity

Last week I talked about heading from Green to True Blue. My logic was simple: Green has become table stakes in our efforts to make this world a better place for everyone. If we can’t get the environment right, we might as well just pack up our tents. Of course while this is true, it’s very high level. Most of our environmental problems are intensely complex and their practical resolution excludes most of us. But while we might not be able to change the course of rivers or genetically recover a species, we certainly can help affect aspirations and priorities, and this is where I think there has been a real failure of leadership. We seem to be suffering from a kind of Obligation Fatigue. Even important figures like Al Gore push generalized obligation, tinged with personal failure. This is not the way to motivate and mobilize people. Scare them, yes. Inspire them, no.

Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a nightmare.” He said, “I have a dream”. I believe that until people feel inspired emotionally with the potential of sustainability, we’ll simply keep running on the spot. After all, sustainability means nothing less than a revolution in how people will live and the biggest business opportunity of the next 50 years. You sure can’t squeeze all that into the straitjacket of known obligations.

Many of you will be familiar with the tool called SWOT. With SWOT you look at your challenges through four very different lenses: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You don’t have to have done Brain Surgery 101 to understand the Threats and Weaknesses in an unsustainable world, but I’ve found that Opportunities and Strengths are where people come alive. We can move from Green’s focus on impending disaster to Blue’s belief in the human spirit and human ingenuity. From being burdened with obligation to being inspired by opportunity. This is the only way we can reach a solution the size of the challenge. A challenge to make sustainability come alive for 6.6 billion people.