Long before the now mainstream action around climate change, there was recycling. The first ‘green’ behaviour that I recall was all about dealing more intelligently with our urban waste. It is time to revisit the whole idea with new vigour.

Reading Natural Capitalism  when it was released a few years back was the first time I was introduced to the idea of zero waste. Traditionally recycling has been about reducing the volume of landfill and being smarter about re-using the same materials. Paul Hawkins and others are now painting a vision that everything we manufacture is to return for whence it came. Further, the idea is that the manufacturer has accountability for the entire lifecycle of their product.


If you, like me, have thought that dealing with rubbish is a bit 70s, think again.

The Economist recently ran a special report on waste. An introduction article included this,

“The stretch of Pacific between Hawaii and California is virtually empty. There are no islands, no shipping lanes, no human presence for thousands of miles – just sea, sky and rubbish. The prevailing currents cause floatsam from around the world to accumulate in a vast becalmed patch of ocean. In places, there are millions of pieces of plastic per square kilometre. That can mean as much as 112 times more plastic than plankton, the first link in the marine food chain. All this adds up to perhaps 100m tonnes of floating garbage, and more is arriving every day.”

The article goes on to list an array of stories describing the unbelievable volume of waste that is accumulating around the world.

I have been musing about this in the context of digesting Thomas Friedman’s sharp little piece called The Inflection is Near? (Thanks to the Trevor, Mohan and Chris who, within 24 hours,  independently suggested I read this short NYTs article)  In it Friedman articulates so succinctly what many have been intuiting .. . 2008 will become known, not just for the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), but as the point in human history where we hit the wall – the time “… when Mother nature and the market both said: ‘No More'”.

We are on the cusp of deep and fundamental change.

We have lived a myth. Through the industrial revolution and the years beyond it, we have thought that we have been generating wealth. But real wealth is surely sustainable. It is not about a time constrained enjoyment of riches that sticks its head in the sand with respect to the prevailing reality. Instead of passing on wealth to our children and their children, we are passing on a world in decay. We have plundered limited resources to cultivate a way of life that we thought included endless growth and progress. The scrap heap is not a fantasy, it real. And as Friedman reminds us, “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

The current issue of Company Director is cover to cover about managing in the economic context of 2009. These are critical discussions. There is so much at stake when we are talking about jobs. But I am reminded that if the economic lens is the only one through which we assess the state of the world, and the only one via which we measure our success, they are gloomy days indeed.

Last night, as I braced myself for another week away from Maria and our four children, I reminded myself again that balance is not about working less … it’s about ensuring there are other things in life that solicit my best energies and passions. What is there in my life that I hang out to invest time and effort in. As much as I enjoy the challenges of business, I am lucky, lucky, lucky that I’ve got an amazing life outside ‘organisational effectiveness’. I hope the tough times cause us deep ponderance on what matters most in the scene of our whole lives.