Participation Notes - Returns
Caleb A Phillips
Course – Professor
I'm not going to hand over th assignment you're after. I can write pages on sustainability initiatives, but I'm already doing that with other projects I'm working on. What I'm writing on is a confusion around sustainability that produces a sustainability lite. Businesses around the world can take on sustainability initiatives, they can save money on transportation through video conferencing or reduce packaging while making more of it recycled or biodegradable. These are projects that many businesses can do and learn from. What many can't do is become sustainable in a meaningful way.
The reading refers to Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough. In their remarkable book, Cradle to Cradle, they do say that we must turn industrial production on its head and capture the innumerable technical nutrients that are lost when we through things away. Waste does equal food (36). They also remark that sustainability, that cradle-to-cradle manufacturing can't be done in part, in must be done in its entirety or else we are simply delaying the industrial collapse. Certainly this process can be accomplished in stages, but how can look to Lockheed Martin for sustainability guidance (29)? This is a company that builds jet engines and missiles. Where exactly do tactical missiles fit in with sustainability?
In addition, there seems to be only a very shallow assessment of sustainability in these examples. If a business moves to replaces CRT monitors (conventional, boxy monitors) with sleek new LCD monitors, that makes hundreds if not thousands of pounds of electronic waste out of functional equipment (31). Replacement strategies without employing reuse (fixing and handing off monitors to low-income schools or community centers, for example) strategies or a comprehensive e-waste management scheme is foolhardy. Electronics and especially computers involve heavy metals and toxic chemicals that, without proper disposal, can contaminate ground and surface water supplies. Even existing e-waste programs may mean simply shipping computers off to other countries where they are picked through in unhealthy conditions (even landfills and by children) for the previous metals that are worth relatively more than they do in the United States.
And citing Hamburger Helper's packaging? Hamburger Helper is a nutritionally lacking food, high in sodium, and aimed at complementing cheap meat (33-34). Should we really be complementing a business that puts 30% or more of daily recommended sodium in a single, adult-sized serving (http://www.coheso.com/nutridata/Hamburger_Helper/list_item.html)? What does it say that sustainability for these uncritical assessments ignores a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for a dish of cheap meat, salt, and simple starches?
What I'm getting at is that sustainability isn't something businesses can tack on or even innovate toward. Sustainability requires a much deeper assessment of sourcing, procedures, and goals in a social and environmental context. What these little blips about various businesses do sound more like greenwashing that real evaluations of what the business does and how it makes its money. If sustainability mean putting Lockheed Martin out of business, I think that is what sustainability—even for businesspeople—ought to mean. If Kevin Wilhelm thinks that sustainability is simply a change in sourcing or an update in electronics, then he is profoundly mistaken.