The Wages of Sustainability

Sustainable Development?

Speaking generally, Sustainable Development can be defined this way:

Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon with the economy and society depend. [1]

Clearly, this implies an on-going win – win situation for humanity and for Mother Nature. But “speaking generally” isn’t always good enough. Pursuing human development goals (be those goals global, local or anywhere in between) implies economic expansion, with its attendant costs and/or trade-offs.

The Hopi

Hopi Land

Hopi Land Near Oraibi
BG Jaume – Public Domain via Wikipedia

Traditionally, the Hopi regard themselves as the original human occupants of the western hemisphere. Their tradition indicates that the Hopi emerged into this hemisphere from the sea, most likely in Central America. From there, the Hopi spent centuries in migration: to ice and snow in the north, to the end of the world in the south, east and west to both coasts. Their permanent place of residence, as stipulated by the Creator, was to be at the crossing of the north – south and east – west meridians of the hemisphere. They settled at their reckoning of that crossing about 1,000 years ago and built what archaeologists regard as the oldest continuously occupied human habitation on this continent. The Hopi are still there. [2]

That unlikely promised land is in the northeastern corner of Arizona. It lies in remote, high (generally 5,000 – 7,000 feet), dry (typically 6 – 7 inches of rain annually), barren country. Today’s Hopi reservation is entirely surrounded by a much larger Navajo reservation. There are about 19,000 Hopi today, of which perhaps half live on the 2,500+ square mile reservation. As individuals, Hopi who live on the reservation follow their traditional way of life more or less rigorously, resulting in “traditional” and “progressive” factions. [3]

Black Mesa

Black Mesa lies within the Navajo and Hopi lands. It is well named – it has large deposits of coal that can be rather readily strip mined. Some years ago, Peabody Western Coal Company obtained a concession from the Hopi and Navajo tribal councils to conduct mining operations, primarily to serve two very large coal-fired electric power generation stations. One of those power plants was closed in 2007 due to environmental (water and air) concerns. The second is scheduled for closure in 2019, due to stiffening environmental regulations in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas fired facilities. [4]


The rub here is the asymmetry of benefit and cost. Closure of the remaining power plant and attendant coal mining operations will result in a reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere, providing an unquantified benefit to humanity generally.

The cost of discontinuing revenues from coal production, on the other hand, will impact the Hopi specifically and dramatically. In 2010, the Hopi tribal council had a budget of $21.8 million. Coal revenues provided $12.8 million, or about 59% of that budget. The problem in 2019 — losing almost 60% of revenue — would impact the ability of any governing entity to provide public services. Further, there are few viable options available to the Hopi to make up those revenues from other sources. [5]

This is but one of many issues of asymmetry of costs and benefits that will challenge those who pursue Sustainable Development in an age of globalization. Kermit is right: It isn’t easy being green.

Chuck - VancouverThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] From:

[2] The Hopi, their traditional history, and their worldview are quite remarkable, as is Frank Waters’ Book of the Hopi, which was written in the early 1960s in collaboration with 32 Hopi elders. The book is still available on Amazon. It is a great read. Frank Waters, incidentally, was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature – FIVE times.

“Hopi” means peaceful – the oldest existent culture on this continent actively espouses nonviolence. The Hopis’ history, traditions, religious views and way of life constitute an important part of humanity’s cultural heritage.

[3] The specific figures presented here are from www.en.wikipedia/wiki/Hopi

[4] The Black Mesa mining concession has been controversial since its inception. See

[5] “When coal-fired power plant closes, this mine will die. So will a lifeline for one Native American tribe”, Ryan Randazzo’s article for The Republic, takes a close look at the consequences of closing the power plant and the mine that feeds it. The article is available on-line at:


The UN Sustainable Development Goals

One year ago, “The Age of Sustainable Development”, a series of three posts to this blog, sought an operational definition of “Sustainable Development” as that term applies to smaller manufacturers. That is, a definition that answers the question: “what characteristics and actions can be expected to enable smaller manufacturing firms to grow and prosper indefinitely, within context of a sustainable world?” (A sustainable world does not self-destruct ecologically, socially or economically.)

UN FlagThe third of those posts explores the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations’ Goals serve to remind us of just how broad the scope of doing business is today. Finding a way to keep in meaningful contact with the multitude of changes occurring in globalized commerce is a major management challenge for smaller manufacturers. The following is extracted from that post:

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

Earlier posts in this series of posts looked at two routes to an actionable definition of “Sustainable Development”. The first was the original (1987) Bruntland Commission single sentence definition: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The second approach was to take the entire contents of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ “The Age of Sustainable Development” – the on-line university level course (a “MOOC”), along with the 500+ page textbook – as an operational definition.

Clearly, a single sentence definition isn’t specific enough, while a book plus a MOOC is a bit much. A third route involves the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. By examining these global goals, smaller manufacturers can identify specific, actionable areas that fit with their business and those it serves. From those specifics, each firm can construct their own operational definition – a definition that reflects and contributes to global initiatives.

The U.N. adopted an Official Agenda for Sustainable Development in September of this year (2015). The Official Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to be achieved by 2030. The Goals are sweeping, general statements, each reinforced by a number of more specific Targets. Sustainable Development Goal #1, along with its associated Targets provides an example:

Goal #1: End poverty in all of its forms everywhere

Target 1.1: By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day

Target 1.2: By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions

Target 1.3: Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable

Target 1.4: By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance

Target 1.5: By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters

 Target 1a: Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions

Target 1b: Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions

Before you throw up your hands and blow this off, consider that Goal #1 and its targets affect about 2 billion people. Any real global effort toward achieving this will involve huge opportunities in agricultural products, distribution methods, irrigation and other water related products, along with a multitude of other areas. Somebody will supply each piece of all that is required. Some will participate directly, others as suppliers to other manufacturers. So, many firms will do some business and help make the world a better place by doing so.

The remaining 16 Goals and the 162 Targets associated with them are just as ambitious as Goal #1. Rather than list them here, you can visit original list on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development website:

For Smaller Manufacturers

>> Each of these Goals and Targets deserve careful thought as to how they fit with your firm’s business model and web of relationships. The 17 Goals, taken together, are so broad that there has to be opportunities for just about anybody who can make anything. Personally, I don’t believe that world poverty will be eliminated within the coming 15 years. But there may well be significant action toward that end. China’s progress over the last few decades demonstrates that major improvement is possible. Helping even a fraction of 2 billion people out of abject poverty is a very good thing.

>> The U.N. Goals signify that the U.N. has decided to combine its (human) economic development efforts with Sustainable Development. That means the U.N.’s current idea of Sustainable Development has a much different focus from the original Bruntland Commission definition. Bruntland emphasized the longer term (inter-generational) relationship between economic development (meaning industrial development) and environmental impact. The new U.N. focus is shorter term and emphasizes human and fairness matters. The U.N. hasn’t forgotten the environment – just much more emphasis on people issues.

Chuck - VancouverThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

U.N. Flag image licensed via

Links to the three posts comprising the “Age of Sustainable Development” series:


Zoomed-out Sustainability


The dramatic rate and extent of changes affecting business and its management here in the 21st century has been a recurring theme in the essays comprising this blog. As an organizational tool, I prefer to group these changes around four major change drivers: Globalization, Sustainability, Technology, and Demographics & Trends. [1]

Zoom Lens MindIn order to survive – never mind thrive – in the 21st century, business managers must cope with these changes and their implications. To do this, the scope of management’s day-to-day attention needs to expand to match the scope of these changes. Earlier essays have suggested a management process that resembles a zoom lens – a routine practice of zooming-out to a global prospective in order to recognize and assess these changes, then zooming-in to take appropriate actions. [2]

The scope of these changes can be downright mind-boggling. For starters, take the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals. These seventeen Goals are to be finalized next month (September 2015) and to be achieved by 2030. Right – just fifteen years from now:

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [3]

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources

Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies

Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

For Smaller Manufacturers

>> Politics and Pragmatics: Clearly, there is a wide range of opinion among managers regarding the United Nations and these Goals. It is also clear that the U.N. and these Goals have a political dimension. It is for the manager to consider the opinions of stakeholders (customers, for example), along with prospective political mandates (taxation or regulation, as examples) when assessing the potential impacts of each on any given business unit.

>> Opportunities and Challenges: To beg the obvious, the pursuit of these Goals on a global scale will provide truly significant business opportunities for many. Consideration of each of the Goals will suggest possibilities. However, new competitors will arrive, along with new opportunities.

>> Who Pays? Serious pursuit of these Goals will require serious resources. Somebody will have to pay for all actions and overheads associated with the pursuit of these Goals. It is reasonable to expect that “somebody” to be those who can marshal the necessary resources.

Chuck at ReneThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

[1] For more about the four change drivers, see:

[2] For more on zooming, see:

[3] Information on each of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is available at: