Why are we “going green”?

As previously mentioned, I bought the book by Peter Senge, The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World. I wanted to read it because the green and sustainability movements have been impacting the printing and publishing industries over the past year. I am interested in a broader perspective on the subject. Indeed, our company – Grand River Printing & Imaging – has embarked upon its own green initiative and we held a highly successful educational event in Detroit on Earth Day (April 22) to provide a platform for our customers to learn about print media and sustainability.

Much of the recent development in this arena has been focused on paper and the wood fiber sources that are used to make it. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent organization dedicated to the responsible management of the world’s forests. This organization has established a chain of custody program in which all parties involved in the production of wood- and timber-based products, i.e. paper, furniture, building materials, etc., can become FSC certified. In doing so, these companies can demonstrate that the materials used to make the products that are ultimately bought and used by consumers have their sources in responsibly managed forests and woodlands. Products meeting the certification criteria can have the FSC logo imprinted upon them so that the public is aware of the green practices contained therein.

The FSC was founded in the early 1990s and has certified a significant portion of the world’s forests to date. Meanwhile, the number of companies achieving the FSC chain of custody certification has been growing exponentially as corporations, government and educational institutions have adopted the concept of using responsibly harvested wood-based products. Some organizations see this as a strategic goal and are using the FSC label along with other types of green programs to highlight their concern for the environment and willingness to contribute practically to the preservation of our natural resources.

Actually, the paper and printing industries have been involved in ecological efforts for many decades. Among the first industries to be impacted by laws passed in the 1970s by the EPA, the paper industry has been under particular anti-pollution scrutiny. As a major consumer of water and power resources, the paper manufacturers have been altering their practices over the past three decades. For print companies, who are major users of gas and electric power as well as the chemicals involved in the graphic arts process, government policies have regulated plant emissions and chemical waste disposal during the same three decades.

So, one of the reasons I wanted to read Senge’s book was to answer the question: why has sustainability and “going green” become such a hot topic in business today? A second reason was, since Mr. Senge is a purveyor of what you might call “business management philosophy,” I wanted to know where he sits on the question of global climate change and its causes; a controversial and highly charged topic.

On the first question, Senge provides an explanation of the source of the drive toward sustainability in the corporate world. As one would expect, with Peter Senge (and his co-authors Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schleyt), who wrote the acclaimed large volume The Fifth Discipline about “learning organizations,” there is no easy answer to the question. In The Necessary Revolution Senge and his collaborators attribute the transformation in business philosophy toward sustainability to a set of objective historical circumstances. They say that the sustainability revolution is not a fad or passing fancy but a new way of doing things in a world that is vastly different from the one that existed in 1950. This change is primarily driven, they say, by the global interdependence of nations and regions of the world and the realization that the side effects of the industrialization of the previous century and a half are unsustainable going forward.

The following passage from the opening chapter gives a good summary of this concept: “There are many types of revolutions. History talks mostly of political revolutions, dramatic events that all too often represent little real change over the long term: The cast of players in power shifts and new political philosophies come into vogue, but when it comes to the daily realities of most people, little changes. But occasionally something different happens, a collective awakening to new possibilities that changes everything over time – how people see the world, what they value, how society defines progress and organizes itself, and how institutions operate. The Renaissance was such a shift, as was the Industrial Revolution. So, too, is what is starting to happen around the world today.”

According to the authors of The Necessary Revolution, we are now at the beginning of the new post-industrial stage of society which mandates that we alter our view of the world and our use of its resources. In their view, this is the foundational source of the new policies and practices that are being adopted throughout the world toward preservation and establishing renewable sources of energy, air, water and food.

On the second question, Mr. Senge places climate change squarely at the feet of the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere. He writes, “Although science rarely provides absolute certainty, a consensus has emerged among scientists, and among a small but growing cadre of influential leaders, the the changes needed to avert extreme and possibly uncontrollable climate change will be greater and must happen far more quickly than we imagined even a few years ago. In this sense, climate change is a particular sort of gift, a time clock telling us how fast the Industrial Age is ending.” And further on he write, “Unlike so many other global social and environmental problems, in one sense climate change is simple — because its primary dimensions are measurable. Scientists now have extensive evidence of how rapidly CO2 and other greenhouse gasses are accumulating in the atmosphere, and how that compares with historical levels.”

The authors then go on to explain the connection in the historical data between CO2 in the atmosphere and temperature, a fact that has been established through analysis of ice core drillings that preserved these characteristics going back 650,000 years.

While Peter Senge is not climate scientist, he is a social scientist and has done a considerable amount of his own research on human organization. The Necessary Revolution is devoted primarily to establishing a theoretical view of the new forms of activity that have emerged recently around sustainable practices in business, government and education. While I don’t subscribe to all of the ideas in his new book, I think that Mr. Senge and his co-authors should be credited with their honest portrayal of the scientific basis of the climate change crisis and pointing to the potentially catastrophic consequences of the resistance to dealing with this worldwide dilemma.

July 12, 2008

Author: multimediaman

Know the past | Create the future

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