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Friday, June 11, 2010

Sustainability Series : Abey speaks

Abey is an old friend who has kindly (though rather late) contributed this opinion piece.

When Shiv asked me to contribute my thoughts on Sustainability my first reaction was 'Oh cool. This is something interesting to write about. Plus it will earn me some good karma."

Notwithstanding the incentive of good karma, writing about it is proving to be tougher than it looked. After all 'sustainability' is a hot topic and worst case if I read up a few experts on the subject am sure I could regurgitate something quote intelligent unquote. The problem however is this. The more I think about it and the less I like it.

Sustainability is a crutch word. On it hangs the perceived absolution of many an environmental sin. On the one hand you have industry who hugs it as a quasi marketing tool. Its good to look green for customers and shareholders and there is also some obvious feel good factor that the industry leader will feel when signing off on a green initiative: "I am not a cut throat destroyer of the environment after all." Of course we will politely discount the unsaid: profit before environment.

On the other side you have the environmentalists: little puny stick insect figures who are usually squashed by rolling the juggernaut of destruction wearing the pleasing garb of good times, wealth, prosperity, Bacardi rum sips under cool equatorial coconut palms, and dressed in designer bodies.

In these caterpillar tracks of a consumption driven economy we talk sustainability. And it is just that. Talk where everyone is complicit. Even if you are reusing your plastic bags, all you've done is put up a personal shrine to your belief in the sanctity of the environment. Not that such shrines are not valuable. Individually they contribute to modifying the collective consciousness which will eventually bring about the change.

Meanwhile....Sustainability is a train of thought that is extraneous to any entrepreneurial discussion. It is a layered on activity usually driven by regulatory concerns or as is common in India by how un-bribe-able the enforcing officer or department is. This is not going to change unless there is a fundamental rethink on how we generate our wealth. Laws maybe tightened, departments and officers may become incorruptible, but as long as the underlying fundamental structure of wealth that is denoted by consumption and debt, remains unchanged, sustainaility will remain what it is: A cocktail dress that will make you feel good at the dinner convocation honoring environmental heroes.

Choka is right. True sustainability can only be achieved once it disappears from our vocabulary and becomes part of our culture's genetic heritage. And the ideal vehicle for such a transformation is when society is organized into self sufficient communities driven by consensus, engaging in deliberate thought as to the impact of our actions, and careful considered execution of enterprises that will bring in lasting and sustainable sustainability.

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