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Do the right thing

I hate the idea of being forced into things. It makes me squirm. If someone tells me that I have to do something, I will immediately start scanning around for arguments I can use to take an opposite position. It’s probably something to do with having three older and, I must have thought, smarter brothers.

Sometimes climate change and resource issues (like peak oil) feel like that to me. That we have no choice and that because of things that other people have done (over many hundreds of years perhaps) I am going to have to curtail my great life style. That offends my childish sense of freedom – my sense that it’s definitely not fair.

I remember watching this fun video on risk on Youtube a little while ago. I did my own little analysis over the weekend. What it told me was that barring catastrophe the major significant risks of climate change and oil depletion are to less developed countries than ours. Climate change is real, but the UK is already a very resilient, and wealthy country. We can buy our way out of many problems. Yes, it will probably hurt, but even here mainly it will hurt the poor.

And what about catastrophe? If you read the press and watch TV that is always very likely. One after another, regular as clockwork, the disaster stories come (and often go). Bird flu, MRSA, asteroid impact, child snatchers – the list goes on and on. This is hardly a surprise. News is “meant to be” negative. If you look up “news values” on the web, you’ll find lists of criteria by which stories are selected as newsworthy. Negativity – bad news – usually appears pretty high on the list.

Of course this wouldn’t trouble a normal person. But if like me you have a tendency to catastrophic thinking then you probably need to read the great Martin Seligman‘s book “Learned Optimism“. In which he gives simple techniques to manage this kind of destructive thinking.

So if we can dismiss catastrophe, or at least put it in its proper place, then from my simple analysis, I believe that in the UK (and other developed countries) we will probably continue to thrive and prosper. By probably I mean, trying to be very specific, “with some considerable certainty”. Despite the many catastrophes the world faces.

In that case seizing the business opportunity of sustainability, climate change, poverty, disease, hunger, and resource insecurity is a moral and ethical issue. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about how we share this planet – about our connection with others. We need, for example, to create a low-carbon economy because it’s the right thing to do.

And how do we get there? I believe the first step is simply to ask questions like “what does a low-carbon economy look like for business?” What will your business look like if travel and transportation costs rise further? How dependent is your business on the price of oil? And what are the opportunities?

Anybody want to to make a start?

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How to take advantage of an opportunity

I’ve just finished reading Felix Dennis’ very funny book “How to get rich”. It’s also very real and packed with useful insights.

I think the book is really about how to succeed at doing things (in his case it was getting rich). I think it’s very applicable to the question of how to ensure your business takes advantage of the sustainability opportunity.

I’ll put his suggestions into my own words (and add a couple of things I have gathered myself):

  1. Commit. Work out what you want to do. Choose something that is true for you. Make a no-let-out contract with yourself to do it. Make it despite any objections that come up.
  2. Recognise that everything that happens to you is down to you. Even including your upbringing and genes. If you can do this, then what happened in the past can be turned from a pain to something really useful – learning about what you did that worked and what you did that didn’t.
  3. Be totally fearless. Now that is difficult for a total coward like me. But I know it to be a great strategy. Amongst other things, it means stopping caring about what others think – and being true to yourself instead. It means handling what’s in front of you – and not thinking too much about what might or might not happen.
  4. Start (don’t wait or hesitate). That’s a tough one for me. I often procrastinate.
  5. Persevere. But if one approach doesn’t work, “do something different” (more on this later).

What a great plan. Anybody know if it works?