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The Inside View

An ode to the sustainability profession

Sustainability, it turns out, has both rhyme and reason.

Who would have thought the corporate sustainability profession would arise?
It sure caught me by surprise.
When I graduated, Profit was the only deal in Wall Street,
Now Purpose and Profit are beginning to meet.

Profit seemed good for many for a long time, Horatio Algers abounded.
Through hard work and determination, rags to riches they founded.
Communities thrived for the most part,
Business, however imperfect, included having a heart.

But something got lost in the quest to soar,
Profit fell in love with itself and wanted more,
Wall Street’s bottom line made Profit the king,
And Purpose became a sideshow, a PR sling.

There were ripples of discontent,
Some people spoke out, but were labeled malcontent.
I remember Shell’s oil rig caused a stir,
Nike’s sweatshops became a big burr.

McDonald’s became a target for too much waste,
Monsanto introduced GMOs in a haste.
Tobacco companies made smoking cool,
And diamond and chocolate sourcing were cruel.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

But just when gas-guzzling Americans were asking, "What would Jesus drive?"
A new way began to emerge for how business can thrive.
The Body Shop cared, but was it a small pipedream?
Ben and Jerry’s cared, too, with their tasty and responsible ice cream.

Interface had a CEO who fell from the capitalism horse and declared a new environmental vision,
It was for carpeting: could we believe this new mission?
In ’93, Students for Responsible business began, led to Net Impact being formed.
100,000 students eventually emerged, to MBA schools they stormed.

Back then, I got an actual job to do good in business.
I wasn’t so sure I could help clean up the mess.
Reacting to society was like putting out fires.
Was I merely just kicking the tires?

Then more and more people like me were hired.
Many companies wanted to a shed their bad reputation, so weary and tired.
With BSR and GreenBiz, I felt I was part of a profoundly new profession,
Could we collectively lead and change Purpose back from suppression?

In 2004, Dupont hired the first Chief Sustainability Officer,
The movement accelerated with this position as a harbinger.
We all put out reports, maybe it was more show than substance,
But it was a beginning for a new language, where Purpose had a chance. 

NGO’s continued to bash and clash,
But a new approach came about, not too slash,
But to lower the voice, and collaborate,
Putting aside the anger and hate. 

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

This would have been mocked and repelled in the Milton Friedman reign,
Profit would have declared such corporate and civic partnerships insane.
But companies shook hands with past enemies,
And they became friends and allies. 

Who knows exactly what caused such a seismic switch of tide,
Some say the Environmental Defense Fund, who gave up "Sue the Bastards" to seek practical solutions with the other side,
Or Conservation International and WWF, which pledged to have its eyes in the skies, yet its boots on the ground.
All I know is that Purpose, which was long lost, was now found.

We started to work together, and today many of us unite,
Stopping rising temperatures, deforestation and inequality, that’s what we now fight.
We have frameworks, accountability and goals we pledge to meet.
Sustainability is creeping into the C-suite!

There are plenty of critics that are irate, 
I think they think it’s another ruse meant to soothe and placate.
For one that’s been on this journey for three decades and more,
I know the caution of OK, Boomer, now what’s in store?

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

We’ve been through hope before and had our dreams stall.
The first Earth Day in 1970 excited all,
And put in place institutions to protect our Earth,
That over time became a political source of mirth.

Reduce, Recycle and Reuse was the next rage,
Curbside recycling seemed to turn the page,
I thought this generation would change the world,
But it this stalled as well, and complacency just swirled and swirled. 

Al Gore gave it a good shot exposing an inconvenient truth,
His PowerPoints and passion were a controversial sooth.
It’s a shame our Earth was divided as it should not be,
As if you say "Republican" or "Democrat" to a tree. 

Now we have the Circular Economy, changing how companies create,
Regenerative Agriculture, transforming how to satiate,
Renewable Energy, giving us optimism to conquer the past fossil-fuel circus,
And the Conscious Consumer, ready to reward businesses with Purpose.

At the dawn of this new decade. I see a remarkable and unique peace,
As if the war between Profit and Purpose will cease,
Like the Marshall Plan that ended the last great war,
We can all pull together once again, for our Earth, with dignity for all at its core.

Many are still at war with Profit and believe it’s time for a new order.
But I say give Purpose a chance.
It’s still so young, this profession of corporate sustainability,
We’re all clawing our way for a better capitalism, with so much potentiality.

As we enter the 2020s, much is in the works to make sustainability mainstream.
In 2030, I hope I wake up from a bad dream,
Thinking another cycle has come and gone and doomed us.
But instead, I look around, and see all of us are on the sustainability bus.

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