January 15, 2020 / STAND UP OR SHUT UP
January 15, 2020
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Hunter Lovins, founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions and author of the book A Finer Future: Creating An Economy In Service To Life. Lovins, who is a professor of Sustainable Management for Bard’s MBA program, has championed sustainable development for over 35 years, co-a authored 16 books and consulted on business, economic development, sustainable agriculture, energy, water, security and climate policies for scores of governments, communities and companies worldwide. Time Magazine recognized her as a Millennium Hero for the Planet and Newsweek called her the green-business icon. (In short—she knows her s#!t). She shared her outlook on the global crisis and how she’s helping brands think and behave differently with the goal of improving the world we live in.
Lovins has a lot of practical experience being a force for good and describes herself as a cowgirl that got stuck trying to make the world a better place.
While born in Vermont, she spent her childhood in the San Gabriel mountains outside of Los Angeles—this is where Lovins’ passion to protect nature began. She planted the first tree for the first Earth Day and in her early 20s, she helped found TreePeople in Los Angeles—a group that inspires and supports the people of LA to come together to plant and care for trees, harvest the rain and renew depleted landscapes. She went on to become a firefighter, earn a law degree, pass the California Bar and practice law for a few years. That, she decided, “was a lousy way to help the world.” She then created several NGOs and companies that would drive positive change. And that’s what she does today at Natural Capital Solutions. NCS, in partnership with leading thinkers and organizations, creates innovative and practical tools and implementation strategies for companies, communities and countries. It wants to build an economy in service to life through education, innovative solutions and youth empowerment.
Here are a few Uncommon Sense truths Lovins encourages us all to think more about.
“The world is in a global crisis. Consultancies that advise companies should have a point of view on this and implement authentic solutions.”
To thrive, brands must consider their impact on a global scale. They must become a force for good. “Commit to empowerment and engagement of your employees, your workforce and customer base.” Lovins said, “And then commit to partnering with them to drive the changes that need to be addressed. As my colleague Catherine Greener puts it, ‘We are going to have to reinvent everything.’” The demands on leaders are greater than ever, but having a vision that inspires and affects change is how we are going to build a finer future. Lovins went on to say, “When people are asked what they really value—they want to be happy, they want wellbeing in a healthy environment.”
“Give humanity the opportunity to grow up.”
Buckminster Fuller said that this is humanity’s final exam. There’s a lot to learn, and that takes time. But we don’t have time. With a million species on the edge of extinction, ancient glaciers falling and apocalyptic weather, it is no wonder some scientists say the end of the world is near. See subhead 1 or read Lovins' book. “Accepting that collapse is the only outcome is profoundly irresponsible. You are the result of 3.8 billion years of evolution—so act like it. We have all the solutions we need to solve the challenges facing us. Now is the time to implement renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and a just transition. What we need is a different narrative. The current neoliberal narrative that we are all greedy bastards, but that’s OK because the market is perfect is not working. Science tells us that we’re not greedy bastards—humans care for each other; that’s why we love Facebook and hanging out together. Now is the time for each and every one of us to take responsibility and craft the future we want to live.”
“Regenerativeness is the principle that operates the universe. And it should be one that operates your business too.”
Lovins encourages those in leadership and decision-making roles to consider the following questions—What about your business practices are degenerative? Is what you are doing every day part of what is destroying the planet? How much do you have to cut your carbon footprint to solve the problem? Lovin’s often references a quote by John Fullerton “Nature is sustainable because it is regenerative. If we wish to have sustainable systems, we will achieve that by implementing more regenerative practices.”
“Understand very clearly the changes you need to implement to make your company regenerative,” Lovins says, “That means bringing people in that know what they're talking about. If you're serious about making impactful changes, you need to have people working with you who know how to implement regenerative practices profitably. You need to set science-based goals for carbon emissions and to support regenerative efforts for your brand.” She suggests looking at whiteoakpastures.com as a case for regenerative land practices and as a rolemodel for regenerative practices. By building healthy soil, companies that manage land regeneratively are actually rolling back climate change at a profit.
How can you not love Patagonia?
“I do love Patagonia,” Lovins says, “But perhaps more interesting are the brands that have had ‘epiphanies’— those ‘aha’ moments that change the way they do business.” Lovins told us the story of Interface, a company whose CEO, Ray Anderson was questioned about their environmental policy, and came to find out it was nonexistent. On realizing that, Anderson acknowledged that “There was nothing sustainable about our company.” and pledged to be the first company of the “Next Industrial Revolution”. He committed the company to Mission Zero—zero harm, zero negative footprint.
“It's simply better business.”
The triple bottom line doesn’t resonate with Lovins. Instead, she suggests learning from Anderson.
“This is not about polar bears, it’s about enhanced profitability for you.
Let’s be real—if you were told to keep three separate accounts tracking your environmental footprint, your social impact, as well as your profitability, you’d go nuts. And in tough times, guess what gets cut? If, on the other hand, we can show you, as Ray did, that everything you do to implement more sustainable practices enhances shareholder value, you’ll bake more sustainable practices into how you do business because it is the route to enhanced profitability. This is what we call the Integrated Bottom Line. There are 13 different aspects to this—more regenerative practices cut your costs, they reduce your risks and make you easier to insure. They make you more attractive to impact investors (that is now something like one in every four dollars under management). It reduces the cost of distrust—Walmart cut in half the number of people saying that they would never shop at a Walmart with their sustainability efforts. This helped them to manage their supply chain. It is crucial to differentiate your brand and build customer loyalty. Perhaps most important, it underpins your HR strategy—it enables you to attract, then retain the best talent. It enables you to achieve an engaged workforce, which delivers up to 18% higher productivity and 16% higher profitability.”
Lovins encourages leaders to look beyond the typical 5-year strategy or CEO term and have the courage to stand for something—and you’ll stand out. She commends and often refers to Paul Polman, CEO of UniLever, for his social responsibility efforts in leadership. From the day he arrived, Polman changed Unilever’s policies to focus on the long-term value of the company versus short-term returns.
The New York Times reported in an article that “He stopped issuing quarterly guidance, signaling to Wall Street that he was not going to make decisions to improve the short-term stock price. He rolled out a long-term strategy to make Unilever a better steward of the environment and a more socially responsible business, known as the Sustainable Living Plan.”
The article goes on to say that “When he abolished quarterly guidance, shares fell 8 percent. But since then, Unilever’s stock price has shot up.” This marked a more than 290% return during Mr. Polman’s tenure.
According to the article, “Mr. Polman managed to deliver strong financial results by acquiring new brands, expanding in emerging markets and enlarging the company’s personal care business. At the same time, he championed the Sustainable Living Plan, which set ambitious goals such as cutting Unilever’s environmental impact in half by 2030, while still improving sales.” Those Sustainable Living Plan brands delivered a record 70% of the turnover growth last year, growing 46% faster than the rest of the business.
“To accomplish this,” the article notes “Mr. Polman gave managers wide latitude to make changes that could reduce water use and greenhouse gas emissions, improve soil health and create less waste.”
“It's not hammering what's wrong, it's being clear about how to solve these problems.”
To Lovins, being a force for good requires understanding the challenges facing humanity today. In the first chapter of her book, A Finer Future: Creating An Economy In Service To Life she walks through all of the challenges we're up against.
"If you own fossils, you own climate change."
The above quote by Ellen Dorsey is one that Lovins often uses in her speeches. Your money is your most powerful asset. Lovins encourages putting your money where your heart is, or as Dorsey says, “Get off your assets.” Evaluate your 401k, and don’t invest in companies that aren’t making ethical choices. Put your money into those companies who do business the way our future economy needs. Change Finance helps deliver such investments. Investors who divest from fossil ownership shed risk and open themselves to the profit centers of the future. They also signal financial markets that it is time for an economy in service to life. For the price of a pizza, you can be an impact investor and move your money from harm to healing.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis has detailed why fossil investments are bad for your portfolio here—http://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-the-investment-rationale-for-fossil-fuels-falls-apart/.
What can you do in your life to be part of the solution?
Lovins suggests to “drive electric cars, implement solar, look for more regenerative practices throughout your life. You should start by understanding your carbon usage. Organizations like Carbonfund.com enable you to detail your carbon footprint and offer offset for any carbon you have not eliminated”. Lovins practices what she preaches, putting solar on her ranch and driving an electric vehicle.
Three uncommon sense principles Lovins lives by (and encourage each of us to do the same):
Lovins raises her own, but you can find local ranchers/farmers who are using regenerative practices. You can also mail order regenerative beef from Gabe Brown (https://nourishedbynature.us/store/beef) or from Will Harris (https://www.whiteoakpastures.com/)
2) “Find what it is that helps you keep going, what nourishes you personally. To be a part of the solution, you have to be in the game, so take care of yourself. Do it.”
3) “Each one of us matters. Everyone matters or no one matters. You matter. It matters that you act, it matters that you vote. But don't fall in the trap that if you aren't perfect, you can’t still be part of the solution. Don't be too hard on yourself. But realize that time is short and the time for inaction is over. Find what you really care about and live a life that shows it.”
Post featured on The Dieline.