I received a comment on the previous post from Sara Howe, who is the Director of Sustainability at the TATA tea group, which manufactures and sells Tetley tea bags in the UK. I am reposting it in this blogpost, along with my response, to give it a little more prominence. First, however, you must read this for some background!
In common with just about all industries and retailing organisations that have developed over the last several decades, the tea industry has the sustainability handicap that, while they were growing, considerations of sustainability were almost completely off their radar and, if they were raised at all, were irrelevant to the economic bottom line. Indeed, they were probably looked at as an economic cost to be avoided if possible.
This is because, when organisations are driven by competition, they are forced to optimise the factors that are taken into account to measure success. Up until now, that has just about exclusively been the accountant's bottom line balance sheet - totting up money received against money spent. Remember Dickens' Mr. Micawber and his famous principle?
"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
I am afraid that now we have realised that the impact of economic growth on the planet is no longer sustainable, we have to take a few more things into account than just monetary matters when we decide if an operation is profitable/successful or not. This is where alternative economic systems of measurement, such as ecological economics and environmental economics show the way.
By including hitherto ignored externalities, such as pollution, social costs, biodiversity and carbon footprint into economic measurement, the powerful economic forces of the free market will render businesses that are run on sustainable principles more profitable - and those that do not will become less profitable. Without the need for massive intrusive legislation, people will tend to be able to make sustainability based purchasing decisions without knowing, simply by bargain hunting! Here is a link to a Wikipedia article about this school of economic thought.
Here’s Sara’s post