Monday, 21 February 2011

Natural Capital and the Bubble of Denial

The World Bank has defined natural capital as ‘a stock of natural resources - such as land, water and minerals - used for production’. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the stock of the natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods into the future’.

Natural capital is vital to the survival of mankind, and therefore must be sustained and supported. The Western economic model on which the majority of people depend is not designed to take into account the effects it is having on ecosystems and biodiversity. Yet it is these ecosystems that provide the minerals, water, plants, trees, soil, animals and air that sustain us all.

In his book A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen equates our denial of the unraveling ecological structure of the world with a family that is abused by the father, who lives in complete denial that he is doing anything wrong. It is a powerful analogy and one that we should hold on to.

When we are making decisions about our businesses, we think about many things including the implications on our financial capital, the effect on our human capital, products or services, and maybe the community around us. But do we consciously think about the effect of our decisions on the natural capital of the Earth? How conscious are we of the importance of our decision-making to the long-term needs of our natural capital? We seem to struggle with – and all but ignore – any solution that doesn’t meet our immediate needs.

The Hamilton Group and other similar organisations around the world are working to create awareness of the unthinking abuse of our ecosystems in the pursuit of economic growth and how we can change this pattern of behavior. Much of mankind is living in an unconscious bubble of denial where the only thing that really matters is our own happiness and survival. Think honestly about our day-to-day life. What do we think about? Our family, our friends, how much money we have, where we are going on holiday, our work load, when we should change our car, our ambitions, our shopping, what we have to do next. All these are important to our lives within our comfortable society. But outside that comfortable bubble, there is an ecosystem that allows us to live and breathe on which we depend for our existence and it’s struggling to survive. If we don’t become consciously aware of this and our personal and collective contribution to its ill-health, then we will cut off our oxygen of survival and suffocate. It’s that simple and that important.

There is so much more to become conscious of in deciding how we live and how we manage our lives. And it isn’t easy. But we have to become more conscious of our responsibilities to the Earth. We need to be aware of where our food comes from and how it is produced; where our clothes comes from and under what conditions they were manufactured and take responsibility for our choices. When we make decisions at work or in our daily lives, we must be conscious of the effect they are having outside the bubble we live and work in.

Why is it so important to break out of this bubble of denial and think big and wide? Because if we don’t do it, mankind as a species is unlikely to survive. But the exciting thing is that change is happening. Our bubble of denial is quietly being infiltrated by different ways of thinking. Businesses and organisations are thinking about sustainability. Cradle to cradle thinking is penetrating boardrooms. Harvard’s management Tip of the Day for January 24th 2011 includes the following: “In the past two decades, many corporations have made strides in shedding their reputations as polluters, exploiters, and gluttons. But there is still a long way to go until doing good is an accepted norm for successful businesses. How can you help your company get there?” Time magazine’s article dated 21 February 2011 called Paying for Nature ends with “But in a world with a growing population and demand for resources, smart companies will learn to value ecosystem services, not just exploit them. It's not a choice to play a zero-sum game anymore. The economy and the environment are interdependent. And they're united by one color: green.”

Environmental responsibility and corporate success aren't always opposed.
In 2007, Goldman Sachs released a landmark report showing that companies that were considered leaders in environmental, social and governance policies tended to outperform the general stock market and their peers. Measurement of social impact is becoming a big business in itself. But the decision to engage with environmental degradation caused by business is being driven by economic necessity and not because the survival of mankind and the species we share the planet with, depends on it. Many businesses and organisations are still unaware, or in a state of denial that in the complex and chaotic world we have created, the linear thinking that worked for the industrial revolution and the economy that emerged from it, will no longer work. A step-change is needed that revisits basic assumptions. We need to adapt and shift beyond incremental improvements. It is no longer sufficient to do a little less bad. We need to effect a paradigm shift away from a purely anthropocentric-based worldview, acknowledge our inter-connectedness with the world’s ecosystems and value and bolster them for our mutual benefit.

Mankind is facing a perfect storm of global warming, peak oil, population growth, food and water security, revolution, changing global power structures, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. The platform that supports our businesses, our organisations and our communities is burning. If we stay in our bubble of denial, we face almost incomprehensible dangers that will be forced upon us. Alternatively, we can break out of it, move onto a new platform and take full responsibility for all our actions and change the way we think, work and play. Those changes might just enable us to return to understanding the interconnectedness of our planet and that every species has to be interdependent to survive.

Breaking the bubble of denial by stepping off our burning platform into the unknown needs bravery. We should acknowledge and celebrate the complexity that needs to be faced. Building the path as we travel will be a great adventure.

The Hamilton Group is a dynamic network of individuals, organisations and businesses united by the Group Ethos: We as individuals, organisations, communities and societies depend on and are an integral part of the natural capital that sustains us all. By ensuring that in all our actions we sustain, care for and balance the diverse needs of people and the biodiversity and ecology of the Earth, we will enable a happier, more just, equal, sustainable and integrated world.

We are working to bring the issues of the world to the forefront of decision-making. Not an easy task. But if you are interested in joining us, finding out more or would like us to work with you, we’d love to find out more about you.

Simon Hamilton

Copyright: The Hamilton Group - Inspiring and co-creating an integrated world
February 2011