Humanity needs to pay attention to sustainability or die.
I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on sustainability at Essex University in November 2012, where I met an inspirational speaker Albert Low. Mr Low runs a successful business called My Duc Ceramics Ltd Co in Vietnam. What marks Mr Low out as extraordinary is he went against the trend in Vietnam by putting the environment and people first before profit, and reaped the benefits of profit as a side effect.
In the advanced nations our business culture tends to include environment in our decision-making; depressingly the developing nations such as Vietnam places profit first, and the environment at the bottom of priorities. Mr Low related the horror stories of rivers polluted and people made ill by this profit first mentality, and in that nation he rebelled by doing the opposite of his competitors, by placing the environment and people first.
As inspirational as Mr Low was in the methods he used to create a harmony between profit, environment and his work force, it was his easy to understand introduction to sustainability that helped me to see sustainability, that until then was just an empty word, with new eyes.
The environment, a business, a nation or our body is a system. These systems are governed by the second law of thermodynamics, so that if more energy is taken out than is being renewed the system begins to break down into entropy. Take our body for example, this is a system, that if we take too much energy out of it, we lose weight, we lose body mass, and if this continues with no renewal, then our body weakens, falls sick, then dies. Our body is in a constant state of activity, renewing but losing energy through work and heat. It is through activity that the body renews, and we put energy back into the system by feeding our body and taking rest breaks. The same principles apply to a business, the environment or a nation, where it needs the opportunity to renew itself. If this renewal is disrupted or denied, the system breaks down, there is no energy to sustain it, thus environment, nation or economy collapses into anarchy.
Our global civilisations have forgotten about renewal, about sustainability, not only taking out of a nation or the environment more energy than it can renew, but stupidly undermining those processes of renewal. According to the second law of thermodynamics business, environment and nation will collapse into anarchy based on the current capitalist and consumerist behaviour. In other words based on the science of thermodynamics it is goodbye civilisation hello Mad Max.
The insights that Mr Low gave me is good hard science practically applicable to business and life, but also matches what indigenous peoples and the ancients have been saying and doing in their stories and practices that balances people with planet, called sustainability.