Question: What do Social Capitalism, Complimentary Currency and the 100-mile diet have in common?
Answer: These are all elements of sustainable design.
To begin, let’s establish some working definitions of these terms:
Social Capitalism: The worldview that it is in one’s best interest to do good. Most often referred to in the context of businesses, but also applicable to governments and individuals, this concept is often considered in discussions about the green economy, fair trade and organic products. For an in-depth exploration, view this transcript of a discussion on Capitalism 3.0.
Complimentary Currency: Sometimes referred to as “community currency” this is a physical method of exchange set up by people with common vested interests (municipalities or other organizations). Non-legal tender (but not illegal), these currencies are typically based on perceived market value of services and are intended to foster local cooperation and community development. A great example of this is the Toronto dollar, a system backed by official Canadian currency where participants trade in Canadian dollars for Toronto dollars, which are accepted by multiple merchants.
The 100-Mile Diet: brought to my awareness by Barbara Kingsolver, in her remarkable book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, this concept is about producing and eating locally. The benefits are fairly obvious; you know where your food comes from, have better oversight of its production, eliminate unnecessary preservatives, significantly reduce the carbon impact and support your local economy.
Ok, so where is this all heading? My point is one of optimism. The world is changing. We are witnessing the collapse of institutionalized short-term thinking and the emergence of a New Innovation economy. Sure, I could call it a “Common-Sense” economy, but that doesn’t sound quite as cool or hold as much impact.
A friend of mine recently made the interesting point that our market-driven (i.e.: profit-driven) economy has conditioned investors to expect constant return on investment, consistent growth. If we stop and compare this to an ecological model, we see right away that it is unnatural and unsustainable. Only two things I can think of (cancer and viruses) grow without limits, and we can clearly see where those lead!
Not only this, but our constant need for predictability inevitably favors stability; our culture is so ingrained with an unconscious predilection for consistency that we are losing our ability to adapt and innovate. It’s an ingenuity drain!
For an even more articulate description, review this study which compares how innovation streams are encouraged or discouraged based on an organization’s design, and how such designs affect our ability to remain competitive.
Are you thinking about Chrysler, GM and AIG yet? I hope so. But remember, this isn’t about assigning blame. My point is one of re-development.
I am working with emerging leaders, people whose ideas and enthusiasm are contagious. These people innately understand the importance of collaboration. This new generation of pioneers automatically assumes an ambidextrous approach to growth (“you do your thing and I’ll do my thing, and where it makes sense to intersect we can make each other better”).
How different is this from the mainstay corporate culture of hierarchical behavior, where the wind blows colder at the top and leaders struggle to assume and maintain control? Since leadership will always be inherently challenging (but also rewarding), I choose to believe that our future leaders will learn valuable lessons from our current economy. Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword. It is a conscious choice to build meaningful relationships. Let’s choose to build companies and teams that support the principles of humanity, collaboration and stewardship.
I recently heard an interesting commentary about two freight liners passing each other somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. One is carrying cars from the west to the east, while the other carries cars from the east to the west. How does this distribution of resources make any environmental or economical sense? Here’s the tie-in to Complimentary Currency and the 100-mile diet: It’s not about Protectionism. It’s about sensible allocation of labor and raw materials – reinventing supply and demand for the new century and no longer selling coal to New Castle (they have plenty).
By the way, the 100-Mile Diet is much easier said then done. Consider how many non-seasonal fruits and vegetables are available at your local market (oranges from South America, peppers from Israel). Even if you could replace most of that with seasonal menus and advanced planning, there is still all the rest of your food to consider. If your box of cereal says “manufactured in Ohio” what does that really mean? Where were the ingredients sourced from?
I’m not looking at this idealistically. Rather, I’m convinced that there are immediately available, pragmatic solutions to some of our most serious problems. Let’s deal with them now, shall we, instead of waiting for the next great collapse?
(postscript: if you like the tenor of the Innovation Economy discussion, here’s a great blog).