Monday, November 5th, 2007...12:29 am
I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the trends, industries and societal transformations that will shape the future. Trying to identify these movements might make it just a bit easier to uncover new opportunities in business, philanthropy and life. One concept that I’m starting to really believe will dominate the future and eventually transform society is the Environment.
You might be thinking “duh litty, we all know the environment is a big issue”. Hopefully this blog post will be more than just another apocalyptic rant about global warming. What I really want to do is provide a framework and explanation as to why I believe the Environment will be such a powerful issue.
Almost every major world issue has multiple interests. Health Care, Globalization, Technology, Education and Democracy are all examples of complex issues that have wide-ranging solutions. The reality is that there will never be unilateral agreement. Even the concept of Peace is usually controversial. In order for there to be peace there must be conflict. If there is conflict that means there are different sides that are fighting for a goal. Some might strongly believe that conflict is the only way to achieve that goal.
The Environment is different. It affects everybody equally and doesn’t care about your nationality, race, religion or tax bracket. A sunny autumn day on Park Avenue is also a sunny autumn day in Harlem. If our environment deteriorates it will be a problem for everybody in the world. Worse than that, it will be a bigger problem for future generations.
Therefore, the environment is a unifier. Sure, there may be some disagreement as to the current state of damage, and about what we should do to conserve our planet. But, the environment is something that everybody call rally around. As politicians, corporate leaders, philanthropists and world figures realize how this issue can bring people together and that it enjoys almost unanimous support they will further rally behind it and pick up this cause.
Moral Issue & Perception
Since the consequences of a damaged earth will most likely effect the next generation more than it effects the present there is a powerful element of morality. People devote their lives to giving their children better opportunities to succeed in life. It helps give meaning to their life. Leaving the world in a good condition plays into this.
I’ve bounced around some of the ideas that I am writing about with friends. Many shared skepticism that it is too late to save the environment or that it is impossible to make a difference. To be honest, I have no idea how much our planet is deteriorating. I’m not sure what will happen if global warming gets worse and I’m not sure when this will happen (in 50 years or 500?). But this isn’t how we should think about the situation. The main idea should be as simple as it’s better to be environmentally conscious than it is not to be. It’s not hard to recycle, to conserve energy or to be more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, as a human being, a parent and a member of society it is your responsibility to do this. If people start to think that way and act that way it will change the world!
The Tipping Point
This isn’t a new issue. There have been environmentalists for years and environmental science has been an academic subject since the dawn of industrialization. But in past generations it seems like a small group of people identified themselves as “environmentalists” and the majority of society didn’t care much about the subject. That has begun to change in the last few years. While there has been “scientific evidence” of damage other factors might be even more convincing. The cause has moved into pop-culture with the help of events such as Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the Live Aid concerts. The temperature was in the 80′s for most of October in New York and that’s a signal that something is fishy. On the practical side, with a barrel of oil closing in on triple digits, people are feeling it in the wallet and starting to ask questions about natural resources that seem much more valuable and limited than they ever were before.
Once this issue is on people’s minds it begins to get attention from other stake holder’s that want to appeal to those same minds. I’m watching Sunday Nigh Football right now and the studio show is talking more about NBC’s “Green is Universal” initiative than they are about football. NBC sees the environment as a way to market their company and their programming. Matt Lauer is reporting from the artic circle and Al Roker is in Ecuador. They are doing this because they know their viewers will watch it. Five years ago this kind of programming would only be seen on the Discovery network. I recently read this article in Fast Company on 50 Ways To Green Your Business that had examples from General Electric, Wall-Mart, Dell, Microsoft and Delta. When those companies go green everybody else better follow or leave themselves open to a PR or marketing disaster. All of a sudden “Green” becomes a new corporate strategy just like digital was a decade ago. This is when things will really begin to change
So what does it all mean if the environment becomes a defining issue of this generation and our future? I’m not exactly sure but here are some of the thoughts I’m trying to wrap my brain around
1) We Save the World! The environment actually improves and we can hand over the world to our children feeling comfortable that we did our part.
2) The environment becomes a global issue that allows people to unite across cultures, religions and ideology. Countries communicate and work together outside of other differences.
3) Environment permeates education. Children learn that this is as important as any other issue in the world. Things like recycling becomes as engrained in society as the right to vote, taxes or racial equality.
4) More laws. Recycling, corporate waste, manufacturing and food standards continue to get regulated at a global, federal, state and local level.
These trends will all lead to huge changes. I’m not sure what this means but I think in the future every political candidate will have to have an environmental strategy. Right now it seems like there are environmentalists who run for political office and other candidates who downplay the issue.
There will be tons of new business opportunities to meet the demand and expectations of a society that is environmentally conscious. We are beginning to see it happen with hybrid cars. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There has to be easier ways to recycle than separating my garbage myself. I should be able to drop off my old electronic equipment at Best Buy or Circuit City when I’m done with it and get a small discount on a new purchase. I would love to see a digital meter in my house that shows me exactly how much electricity I am using each month and how much that costs. It will help me remember to shut off the bathroom light. It would be cool to see the ingredients of daily appliances I buy like I see the calorie content on the food. I sure would stop buying Styrofoam! It sure would be nice to be rewarded or at least recognized if I walk to work instead of drive.
These are just a few ideas off the top of my head of new opportunities and businesses that will result from a greener world. I’m looking forward to it.