Today, I sought some quiet to begin to imagine the world without BP. In my life-time and through my work, I have had opportunity to think in this way. The last time was when I began to imagine life without Digital Equipment Corporation.
Since the BP Oil Spill occurred, I have been reading and listening to news reports portraying the views of reporters, leaders and analysts that I respect. One such leader and analyst is Simon Thomas,
founder of Trucost.com. Simon has turned his personal mission to build sustainable investment analytics and metrics by building a highly skilled and innovative network of people he has by founding Trucost.com. Simon's blog post this week provided context and relevance to what I have been synthesizing in my own mind since the beginning of the BP Oil spill.
"Since I founded
over a decade ago I have often feared that it would take an environmental disaster for capital markets and society in general to start taking the environmental impacts of companies seriously.
In the same way that the Enron and Parmalat crises catapulted corporate governance into the mainstream investment agenda, so the BP oil spill is likely to change investment behaviour forever.
The Deepwater Horizon crisis is of course the result of a terrible accident and terrible accidents are impossible to predict reliably. Research providers struggle as much as anyone else in predicting such events; they are not clairvoyants.
Clearly the extent of the environmental impacts that are associated with the oil industry are well known, despite the concerted attempts of oil company public relations executives to paint an entirely more benign."
I recommend reading Thomas's post in its entirety.
Before Thomas's post, members of the #griconference live reporting group sent a link to Marc Gunther's report sharing Gunther's view that the next debt crisis will be ecological.
blogged live from Amsterdam:
that the event was generating in his opinion" a lot of words to describe an event that is, at heart, about ... living within our means, understanding that we are interdependent and getting the accounting right."
I began to take note of a swarm that has grown around me over past few weeks in various leaving me an ache inside my gut that is loudly shouting that "we can no longer afford more of the same." This voice has echoed loudly numerous times through my life.
To get to the point of thinking about life after BP, I remembered a number of devastating catastrophe's that I have experienced or witnessed. I was born and currently live in Boston. People from Boston are very stoic. The experience of catastrophe or devastation to the New England economy is not new to most born here. There are very reminders of my numerous experiences with catastrophes with polio epidemics, hurricanes, recessions, fuel shortages and wide spread shut down due to a domino effect of lost industry. New England has a rich history in its experience of economic harm suffered from lost manufacturing, challenges to the fishing industry, lost defense contracts and the Harvard Community's HMO put into state receivership.
I remember in 1986, the explosion of the Space Shuttle, Challenger explosion took the lives of 7 astronauts
Americans had to own that their perfect space program could make mistakes and the magnitude of a mistake could take the lives of people.
Shortly after that experience, I found myself working and living in a community of people employed directly by Digital Equipment Corporation or within DEC's supply chain. Ken Olsen as CEO could not see that the personal computing revolution was going to overtake his obstinate view that DEC mini computers would dominate the market. This resulted in a loss of business that reduced a global workforce from 160,000 workers globally to approximately 35,000 workers who were absorbed into a Compaq acquisition followed by the 1990's HP acquisition of Compaq.
I lived in the Bay Area during the next two recessions and watched more Fortune 2000 companies disappear, e.g. Amdhal. By the end of 1993, I had seen the impact of pervasive downsizing of 800,000 workers in California destroy communities, make families homeless and strip children of any hope for a future.
Around 1994, while living in Cupertino, CA, (home of Apple.com) during one of my numerous episodes of layoff, I participated as a volunteer in a meeting of a community group with the Superintendent of the Cupertino School System). As a member of this group, I was privy to the results of a school based study to diagnose why children in the Cupertino School System were malnourished.
The findings of this study challenged a very "thick denial" in the room by the wealthy people in the room, who were not personally derailed by the recession. These people were shocked to learn their neighbors who were laid off could not feed their children. Most of these children were going through a school day with no food, because their parents had lost their jobs. Parallel to this study in San Jose, CA diagnosed the source of a growing homeless problem in San Jose. The problem was accelerating as a result of economic challenged families; the homeless population no longer could simply be seen described as the drug addicted, alcoholic or depressed PTSD diagnosed Veterans.
This past week, John Sculley, former CEO of Apple 35 years ago, spoke with Daily Beast's Thomas Weber about his regrets and rift with now Apple CEO, Steve Jobs in 1986. Do you think it has occurred to Sculley to examine the harm that he followed by Michael Spindler, CEO of Apple in the early 90's? These layoffs and a phase of decline grew out of the rift with Jobs that Sculley sparked and spiraled into a recession that left children malnourished and causing families to lose their homes.
Through May and into early June, as the BP Oil Spill continued and I did my best to absorb the implications of the message from the Global Reporting Conference 2010 and the overwhelming value of reports from the Ceres 2010 Conference, the week prior to GRI, I found myself at a meeting in Washington DC with a safe chemical community partnership that has been formed to help lobby and advocate for to revise update US Chemical legislation and policy.
Hard working people from around the country attended this meeting. They represented Ngo's, corporations and government agencies, Everyone participated with a sincerity and intent to have impact. The meeting was well designed, informative and presented an opportunity for quality networking.
Along with my experience of research re: REACH and Non-ionizing radiation, I left the meeting knowing intuitively all the quality legislation in the world in any country will not prevent the equivalent of a chemical BP Oil Spill. All the legislation passed cannot protect people from disasters as they occur if business perpetuates a culture of harm, government invests and writes laws of fear that create expensive bureaucracies and non profits continue a focus of raising philanthropic investment for media campaigns and protests that create confusion and do not empower learning to lead change and repair harm.
This week, the volume of my intuitive message increased in decibels. This voice was shouting in my head as loudly as it did during other occassions when
- I resigned from Harvard's HMO in the early 80's;
- I experienced the DEC frenzy resulting in my layoff late 80's,
- The eruption of E-commerce turning into a recession in the late 90's;
- I returned from California to Boston in 1999, to witnessed the full cycle of harm from years of financial mismanagement that put Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in receivership.
What is MIssing?
That question has been burning in side of me since I returned to Boston from WDC last week from the meeting related to TSCA and Safe Chemicals.
Nothing is going to escape what I know is the only way to construct an economy of change through lots of people to bring about a new form of complex work that breathes life into the global and local economies to become a living ecosystem of sustainability. Within companies, government entities and non profits that oversee the payrolls of workers , who want to carry out their jobs with the intent to live stable lives there is now absolutely no escape from doing the hard work that it means to assure and build a sustainable economy.
You see it would have taken hard work to synchronize the medical record system at Harvard Pilgrim with the financial system; and more hard work to get the information organized and feeding in synch with the hospitals that billed Harvard Pilgrim insurance. This was know years ago even before my resignation in the early 1980's when I made the decision to leave while I could still be viewed a success. For some reason my voice among many other hard workers was not heard.
Many at Digital Equipment Corporation knew that Ken Olsen's view of mini computing was not responsive to the new frontier of personal computing. The people could not counter act Ken Olsen's stubbornness and the harm that followed.
I recall at one point in grad school seeing a film simulating the engineering conversation about the Challenger where one male engineer's voice expressing concern about something faulty was overlooked and what he said diminished. I recalled a conference call I attended with a major petroleum company (not BP), earlier in this decade with a team was working with an $800K investment in software for an oil and drill knowledge management system. Again those of us who were hard working, questioned how a corporation could invest $800k in a system that was not put into wide use, could not get heard.
Many say they are confused by the term sustainability and don't know what it means. Let me offer you a simple definition I provided to Aman Singh, Vault.com's CSR correspondent, in a review of Kathrin Winkler's role at EMC as Chief Sustainability Officer,
" sustainability is based on a simple premise: 'corporate sustainability is really about business survival: Take the long view, or your business won't survive in a failing global society or environment. Long-term sustainability affects customers, employees, suppliers, neighbors, partners, governmental bodies, and civil society. If we make our business choices based on how we interact with those stakeholders, then we are promoting sustainability."
Let me in this moment return the chemical agenda I have been researching that has grown out of Europe's REACH legislation and the movement of other countries to adopt this regulation or build new legislative platforms e.g. the US revision of TSCA.
Again somewhere in the crowd is a chemist who understands that one of the 80,000+ chemicals in use in a small amount may be showing signs of doing wide spread harm and at present this chemist cannot prove it. This hard working individual has an idea that needs research and support and encouragement but from a financial view and from the perspective of shareholder investment pushing on the perception of this voice who understands it is necessary that a large volume of this chemical is in use.
REACH regulation contains a 1 ton qualifier. It does not apply to a potential chemical in use where the proportion is much smaller than the potential harm. There are now 350+ chemicals that have been identified that are worthy of research and further investigation that are not based on this 1 Ton in use qualifier. The 1 Ton qualifier diminishes the voice of a hard working chemist or health professional, who loves his/her job or has a feeling in his/her gut that a chemical they recognize should be of concern. This is one point of vulnerability of many that investors and economic decision makers or company leaders never gain insight into potential harm.
In following the rapid change over the past few years at General Electric and Walmart, I have been slowly grasping what it means when a major global corporation views itself as an economy rather than a company and a player that influences the natural ebb and ecological flow of an economy. Neither GE or Walmart have perfected their science and they are demonstrating methods of continuous learning that convene the small voices of natural leadership to do the hard work that assures a viable scientific agenda and resources to assure no harm.
This week, Elaine Cohen, found a hidden jewel in Warren Buffet's complex of business. She found one company Shaw Floors wrote a CSR report., I wondered if this could be a door of possibility through which Berkshire Industries might follow Walmart and General Electric and begin to lead itself as a sustainable economy? I am holding similar thoughts for HP to do the same. Last week, I learned that HP's material purchases from its supply chain over 179 countries totals $79B. I bet HP could benefit from sitting at the table with GE and Walmart it may find a formula to invest in the research of numerous chemist within its supply chain to exercise precaution based on the Earth Charter Principle to do no harm.
This week after a sinus infection, I discovered a love for mixing Trader Joes' rasberry and lemon sorbet to lighten that sour feeling in my mouth from learning to be patient as people in reaction from all sectors learn to stop the BP oil gush and sort out a system by which to repair harm and prevent further harm. Hopefully the press and community voices and groups will move into a format of reporting on the emerging resources and activities that are surfacing to repair the trauma, harm and fee of unproductive chaos of reaction.