Magazine article CRM Magazine

Sustainability Is the Ultimate Business Process

Magazine article CRM Magazine

Sustainability Is the Ultimate Business Process

Article excerpt

If nature can do it, why can't businesses? That's the question Gregory Unruh sought to answer in his new book, Earth, Inc. The manuscript attempts to examine, identify, and replicate the genius behind a system that's succeeded--and sustained itself--for 2.5 billion years: the planet's biosphere. In his recounting, Unruh isolates the five steps that businesses must follow if they hope to achieve incremental success in sustainable profitability--and CRM spoke with him in particular about the mother (nature) of all invention.

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CRM magazine: How did you find yourself headed down the environmental path?

Gregory Unruh: In my first job out of college, I was an environmental engineer helping high-tech companies like Apple and HP clean up ... toxic spills and contamination. [I soon realized that when] trying to clean up contamination, you can never get it all back in. It's like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. The problem is that a small amount of toxic waste can be really dangerous. So I got away from remediation--cleaning up the mess--toward eliminating the mess from happening in the first place.

[I was frustrated] hearing companies talk about sustainability as a journey and not a destination. The problem with that kind of analogy is that it [implies it's] sort of a long, endless journey, when really we know exactly what sustainability is--we only have one model. It's an incredibly innovative production system, producing very sophisticated materials, organisms, and information-technology systems--that's the biosphere. It's been operating sustainably on this planet for 2.5 billion years. How can nature produce these really sophisticated products like [human beings]? Constantly evolving and innovating, nature produces materials that make our most-advanced products look like child's play. An ant, for example, weighs just a fraction of the weight it can carry ... How can nature do advanced production like this, and still be sustainable, and not cause environmental degradation? What are the principles that account for sustainability in the biosphere? Can we translate them--simplify them--for companies to embed into their processes so that sustainability disappears as a business concern? A spider doesn't get up in the morning and ask, "How can I be sustainable today?" Business leaders shouldn't have to either.

The book fundamentally came out of research I was doing on companies that were trying to create a cradle-to-cradle, closed-loop interaction system. …

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