Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

In the age of financial meltdown, does sustainability matter?

By Scott Boutwell on October 17, 2008

I was in the UK at a CIO workshop last week and missed a lot of the ongoing maneuvering on the part of both political parties here in the US. It made me think about sustainability market drivers (again; yes, I need a life...), and whether we have turned the corner from sustainability as a 'vitamin' (nice to have), or an 'aspirin' (critical need).

Right now, I would guess that most people (consumers) and many corporations are focusing on very tactical and survival-based activities, such as cost control and risk/exposure management. Where sustainability programs are already established, there is probably little impact from the financial crisis, in terms of potential termination, cancellation, etc.

But where sustainability initiatives are being considered or reviewed, I would venture that many will be put on hold for the time being, as corporations sort through ongoing programs and rank and prioritize those that are truly 'mission critical' for short term goals.

But there may be a silver lining.

One could say that the current populism will engender more awareness of social impacts associated with current and projected modes of doing business. That could feed into more interest in sustainability as the template of conducting business: doing what is right (do no evil?), taking care of your employees and those who are affected / involved in your business, and developing strategy and initiatives for promoting long term viability.

Another potential benefit: whoever becomes president, there is no doubt (in my mind) that we are entering a new age of regulatory oversight. I believe that the 'wave' of rule-making for the financial markets will spill over to other industries and sectors, and will include new environmental and social metrics.

Some may see additional regulation as anathema to the overall concept of sustainability, but as I have posted before on crisis management, sustainability will not be adopted by the majority of corporations until such time that: they have to incorporate programs to be competitive; or, they have to comply with new regulations. Indeed, if you view the UK and Europe, sustainability adoption is due to stringent new rules in building design and construction, consumer product design, and waste recycling; all driving much more awareness (and acceptance) in the local populations.

There. Anybody feel better about the current mess we are in?