May 19, 2012


(Written by Maureen McGregor)

Have you heard of the new Tools for Tomorrow program at Sustainable Seattle? If you haven’t here’s the scoop: Sustainable Seattle has partnered with Bainbridge Graduate Institute to bring you a sustainable business program packed full of resources that can be utilized by all. For starters there are CSR Leaders Roundtables where business leaders discuss the viability of going beyond the triple bottom line to bring about better business for all. Good Business Workshops are a series of engaging workshops that teach leaders innovative ways to make your business more sustainable. Lastly, but certainly not leastly, this program provides Industry Innovator Forums with big name speakers, like the one held at Seattle Public Library last night featuring Hunter Lovins. 

Did you miss it? Luckily, I’m here to re-cap.

If you aren’t familiar with Hunter Lovins, here’s the gist-- she is not only a member of the Boulder County (CO) Mounted Search and Rescue Control, in 1983 she received the “Right Livelihood Award,” or the alternative to the Nobel Prize, and in 2000 she was named by Time magazine “Hero for the Planet,” and in 2009, Newsweek awarded her with the “Green Business Icon.” Lovins is the President of Natural Capital Solutions,  a mentor for the Unreasonable Network, a scholar at BGI, and a consultant for scores of companies. All in all, “Hunter has played an active role in educating senior decision-makers in business, government, and civil society to restore and enhance natural human capital while increasing prosperity and quality of life.”

Donning a cowboy hat, Lovins stepped up to the podium looking nothing short of Super Woman. That, and the fact that her most recently published book is entitled, The Way Out: Kick-Starting Capitalism to Save our Capitalistic Asses, I knew I was in for a treat.

Lovins started out by highlighting the grim realities of what Donella Meadows 1972 book entitled, Limits to Growth. Ocean acidification, global warming, forest depletion… these aren’t just things we read in textbooks that may happen in the future, they are happening now. Lovins points out that there are many apocalyptic-esk type books out there that can help readers determine how to survive the impeding environmental and economic destruction. You can read these she says, but she feels sentimental about this “human experiment,” and adds that figuring these problems out is dependent on whether we even have a future.

To turn things around, Lovins doesn’t believe that it will be governments; it’s going to be businesses. 

Lovins poins out that business start-ups are creating the most job growth and that, furthermore, sustainability within business enhances every aspect of shareholder value. She highlighted a number of companies that are using sustainable business practices to increase their profitability. For example, Unilever's Executive Director, Paul Polman, has challenged the corporate status quo by ridding their company of short-term business reporting, claiming that these kinds of practices have created the mess in the first place. Success stories like these not only make businesses more environmentally responsible for their products, but they also place them in synch with the rest of society: exactly how they should be. 

Lovins also touched upon the need for policy that focuses on and measures such things as health, joy, intelligence, strength, beauty, and education like models of Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross National Product, which accounts negative things such as costs of illness and disease, lawyer fees for divorces, and pollution clean-up costs as boosts to our economy. Lovins quoted Buckminster Fuller, saying, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” We can’t create a better future if what we are measuring is outdated and effectively destroying our very livelihoods. 

Nearing the end of her talk, Hunter Lovins introduced John De Graaf, independent filmmaker and author of Afflenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, and most recently, What’s the Economy for Anyway?, and Laura Musikanski, the Executive Director of the Happiness Initiative, a Seattle-based nonprofit that aims at spreading Gross National Happiness across the nation.
During this part of the forum, Lovins, De Graaf, and Musikanski spoke about the recent UN conference they attended, where leaders from around the world are transforming the way we think and understand our economy and what it truly means to live in a place where well-being, not just monetary profit, is the bottom line. This kind of transformation is happening, if only in the tiny country of Bhutan. Lovins, et al attested to incredible changes occurring around the world, noting the UN Global Compact initiative, but pointed out that these changes are occurring at a slower than necessary speed and urged for committed participation from everyone.

Lovins ended the forum with a story told by Wangari Maathai about the little hummingbird that could. In this story there happens to be a great fire in a forest. All the animals gather around, fearing the fire, feeling very overwhelmed thinking they can’t do anything to stop it. Meanwhile, a little hummingbird flies overhead going from the nearest lake taking a single drop of water from the lake, putting it on the fire. The rest of the animals try and discourage the hummingbird, saying what it is doing is impossible. Even the elephant, with his long trunk that could carry much more water does nothing. The hummingbird didn’t waste any time. It just kept going back and forth from the lake to the fire. When asked by one of the animals, “What are you doing? You are crazy to think that tiny little you can put this fire out!” The hummingbird replied, “I’m doing the best I can.”

Here at Sustainable Seattle, we want to help you do the best you can. Check out our awesome programs so we can facilitate your sustainable superpowers!

And, if you want to learn more, or want to make a difference by getting involved in the Gross National Happiness movement, check out the following links:

The Happiness Initiative:

Gross National Happiness:

Let the sustainable force be with you!

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