Give And Take: Creating Sustainable Impact

As the New Year approaches and as we move past the holiday season, the frenzied language of cutting and slashing is fill the air with vows to cut carbs, slash prices, and reduce spending! This season, I’m challenging myself to adopt a rhetoric of sustainable “creation” to accompany a long-standing philosophy to “reduce.”

The language of reduction is one that is familiar and sacred to the sustainability advocate. The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle,” while verging on being an oversimplification of the green movement, is one that is embedded in the public’s consciousness and synonymous with what it means to be an environmentalist.

The corporate adoption of sustainability has echoed this sentiment – cut carbon emissions, reduce water usage, limit waste output, etc. And key stakeholders have looked to levels of reduction to validate and value the success of these initiatives.

And the numbers are impressive. The Business Roundtable collected some staggering corporate accomplishments in its recent Innovating Sustainability report, such as:

  • State Farm estimates that it saved 20,000 trees by moving to electronic delivery of its insurance policy documents;
  • Hertz’s solar facility at the Denver International Airport offset nearly 650,000 pounds of carbon dioxide; and
  • Verizon reduced its gasoline and diesel usage by 9.5 million gallons over the last three years.

Focusing on reducing waste and improving efficiencies will continue to be key strategies as the world grows ever more populated and faces severe limitations in resources. While the United Nations’ two-week climate change summit in Durban has been widely panned as resulting in too few changes, it should be noted that there was agreement to design a Green Climate Fund. The fund provides a means for developed countries to route $100 billion a year to enable poorer countries to cut emissions. Reduction – on any level – will always equal progress, even if it’s in baby steps.

That said, it’s worthwhile to consider a rhetoric of “creation” and examine the ways in which we can create positive, game-changing impact, as opposed to merely reducing our presence. To clarify, this is not a call to arms for checkbook philanthropy. It is a call to consider our initiatives and re-examine not just what we do with our money, but how we are making it.

Creation and reduction are not principles that have to work separately or in conflict with each other – by examining that which we are creating, a reduction of waste, energy, water, etc., is sure to follow. By creating efficiencies we will be, in turn, reducing inefficiencies.

Consider this analogy: before we cut the fabric, we should consider how the fabric was made and endeavor to create new fabrics that will not require adjustment. To quote one of my favorite poets, Dylan Thomas, “do not go gentle into that good night.”

Happy holidays, and let me know what your resolutions are this season!

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