Reshaping the future

STEERING BUSINESS TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY·Fritjof Capra and Gunter Pauli (Ed.)· United Nations University Press, Tokyo·1995· Indian edition by Response Books, New Delhi. 1996· Price Rs 195

By Dhruv Raina
Published: Monday 31 March 1997

THE stability of the ecosystem on a global scale has become a central concern in the post-Cold War era. This crisis cannot be resolved by wishing away endemic consumerism or expecting governments to intervene sensibly. The current emphasis on sustainability by development agencies reflects the sense of urgency underlying core ecological concerns and calls for fresh thinking on development strategies. This book presents a collection of essays that take sustainable development into the industrial sphere, which has so far been driven by the desire to augment profits, expand scales of production and capture as much of the market share as possible. The crucial warning for industry is that there will be no more profits if industrial practices and culture are not refined on the model of sustainability.

Most of the essays address issues of restructuring management practices on the deep ecology model which views the world as a network of interconnected and interdependent phenomena. The introduction by Capra and Pauli places the onus for ecological restoration on business houses through the creation of a new economic paradigm based on quality, cooperation and conservation.

The importance of NGOs in creating the need for sustainability is highlighted in Jose Lutzenberger's essay. He discusses his experience with NGOs, scientists and citizens' groups in Brazil, in dealing with a range of problems relating to agricultural practices. Undoing the myth that modern agriculture is far more efficient than traditional agriculture, he finds that the former is ecologically harmful and socially disastrous. He goes on to argue for an ecological and political critique of modern technology and not its rejection.

Kris McDivitt, the former chief executive officer of Patagonia, a premier outdoor clothing and equipment manufacturing unit, discusses how she and her colleagues altered the value system of the company. She proposes mechanisms for incorporating sustainability into industrial practice, and the starting point according to her is finding appropriate space in business education, where new goals could be defined for managers and corporate executives.

Monika Greifahn points out in her essay that Germany is unique because it is the only country whose government has taken an activist role in the adoption of sustainability-derived guidelines. This has to do with the long tradition of environmental activism in the country. The activist role for any government requires a shift in policy perspective, wherein it undertakes and enforces preventive measures and also provides incentives for the development of new production procedures for the ecological modernisation of society.

Hermann Daly, the distinguished economist, discusses aspects of ecological tax reform. The possible technologies of the future and the character of industrial production in the next century are discussed in the essays by John and Nancy Todd and Gunter Pauli. Pauli identifies a range of industrial clusters that could emerge in the near future where biotechnology plays a crucial role. according to him, the goal should be to transform totalitarian megatechnology into one that is restricted by cultural norms and this should include the principles of deep ecology.

In this volume, the crucial problems are articulated at various levels of conflict. However, the tension-bound relationship between the North and the South has been ignored. Business in the North has learnt to shift problematic industries and the cost of environmental degradation to the underdeveloped world. Lutzenberger's paper does raise some of these concerns from the NGO perspective, but, overall, the Third World is all but invisible in the volume.
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