An Oxymoron, Revisited

No one can deny that the natural world is under severe duress. At the same time, humanity now numbers over seven billion of us, projected to reach nine billion by mid-century. Further, more and more of us are demanding — and achieving — significant improvements in their standard of living.

3P Macro GraphicIt has been suggested that Industry (including mining and agriculture, as well as manufacturing) stands at the interface between the natural world and humanity, with its aspirations[i]. Clearly, Industry is the cutting edge of the natural world’s distress. Industry is also the provider of the many of the improvements in living standards that humanity demands. At the same time, “not only is business and industry the principle instrument of global destruction, it is also the only institution large enough, wealthy enough, and pervasive and powerful enough to lead humankind out of the mess we are making”[ii].

The course of action called Sustainable Development is Industry’s response. I think it useful for all of us to reflect, from time to time, on the importance of that response. To remind us, I have recycled an earlier post (below). I liked what it said last year, and I like what it says now. — C.H.


Sustainable Development — an Oxymoron?

(Originally posted 1 September 2011)

The publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the 1960’s struck a nerve in Kennedy – era America. A national sense of outrage at abuse of the natural environment resonated with the protest climate of the time – the time of the Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights marches, among others. Greenpeace, perhaps the highest profile environmental activist group, has its roots in those times.

Patrick Moore is a founding member and later President of Greenpeace. In his book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout (terrible title), Dr. Moore recalls attending a global conference of environmental activists in Nairobi in 1982. Of course, all of the delegates at the conference championed immediate and dramatic action in defense of the environment. However, he noticed a difference in outlook between delegates from developed countries and those from developing countries. Those from developed countries wanted action, regardless of economic consequences. Delegates from developing countries, on the other hand, wanted a clean and safe world, along with economic development. There are around 6.8 billion people on this planet today. About 4 billion of those live on the equivalent of $2.00 a day or less. Yes, they want economic development.

Dr. Moore maintains that Sustainable Development – the idea that a safe, clean environment and economic development are not mutually exclusive – was born from that conference of environmentalists. Not long thereafter, the idea that humanity is part of nature, therefore improvement of the environment entails improvement in the condition of humanity. Dr. Moore emphasizes that connection when he credibly demonstrates that poverty is the worst single cause of environmental degradation.

For a manufacturer, Sustainable Development is a strategic approach, where economic development is pursued simultaneously with reduction in impact on natural systems and without exploitation of humanity. As development proceeds, “reduction in impact” and “without exploitation” both grow into positive improvements. In this sense, Sustainable Development is a course of action, while Sustainability is a state to be achieved.

So, Sustainable Development is definitely not an oxymoron. Serendipitously, it has become increasingly clear that the three elements of Sustainable Development – economic growth, environmental impact and humanity – can be mutually reinforcing when pursued systematically. A clear win-win-win.

The “Jera” in our name, Jera Sustainable Development, is that of a rune, part of a northern European system of writing from about the third century. Jera refers to the harvest, hence to beneficial outcomes earned through systematic actions sustained over time. Thus, our name evokes our mission: to be useful to manufacturers who choose to embrace Sustainable Development.


Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.

…  Chuck Harrington

: The ethical case for Sustainable Development is quite compelling. The business case is at least as strong. When it is time to get started, drop me a note at:

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[ii] Ray Anderson paraphrasing Paul Hawken, in Anderson’s Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, St. Martin’s Press, New York (2009), page 14