Its time to vote.
Yes in the elections in November but not only that. Im talking about the voting you do every day.
Every time you drop a dollar, yen, mark, yuan, frank, rial or pound on the shop counter or wire it through cyberspace, youre voting. Every purchase you make or dont make large or small, meaningful or trivial, thoughtful or thoughtless, sets in motion a chain of events, and a flow of resources embodied in everything you buy, that has inescapable effects on the world we live in and the choices that remain available to you, or that close off to you. Every time you do your duty as a consumer, (remember if we dont the terrorists will have won?), you cast a vote for a future. Youre designing the world you and your children will live in.
Heres what I wrote in January 1996 . Its even more true today, as consumers and companies increasingly ask these questions of their suppliers:
You walk into your office and turn on the lights. Youre spending money and using energy. Whats the source of the energy? Coal? Oil? Natural gas? Nuclear? Solar? Wind? Each has different impacts on job creation, air and water pollution, land degradation and the trade deficit. How efficient is the light? (Amory Lovins estimates that its overall efficiency, from fuel to powerplant, from transmission lines to your light bulb, is on the order of one to three percent.) Are you paying for two to ten times the energy you need to do the job?
You purchase supplies, or order equipment. Youre spending money and using resources. Where are they made? Do they support jobs, businesses and tax base in your region? in the US? in other countries? Does their production use resources extravagantly, or create unnecessary pollution? Are they recyclable? Are they made of recycled materials? What impacts does this have on your people? What will the equipment cost to operate in both money and energy over its lifetime? How will you dispose of it? Landfill? Recycle? Repair? Remanufacture? What impact will these each of these choices have on jobs, profits, environment?
You decide to invest in a company. Do its activities support or challenge your goals and values? (Do you have a reliable way to find out?) What sorts of energy and resources does it use? What sorts of wastes does it generate? What sorts of jobs does it create? or eliminate? Where? Where are that companys suppliers located? What are the consequences of their actions on their share value and forward risk?
These arent altruistic questions. The practices of every member of the often-global supply chain that each of your purchases activates affect both quality of life and their economic viability both of which affect you. As a very wise person once said, in the big picture, altruism is self-interest. (It all depends on where you draw the boundaries of self.)
Youre not going to conduct a life cycle analysis for every purchase, or every time you shop; paper or plastic? is complicated enough. But you can apply life cycle thinking to its design, purchasing and operations decisions.
Start by examining your metabolism (http://www.business metabolics.com) the most significant inputs (energy, water, raw materials, equipment, supplies, finished goods); outputs: (products, product use, and non-product outputs); and processes (focusing first on those with the largest inputs or outputs).
Consider the direct impacts of your choices, and then look upstream and downstream at the impact of the actions of the companies you do business with, and the companies they do business with, and the companies they do business with. Look for the options that can improve profitability, reduce environmental impacts, and increase resilience for both your company and for the rest of your food chain in the face of inevitable change.
You may not always get precise and decisive answers (and without them may risk counter-intuitive pitfalls). But you will bring new insight and strategic perspective to your company useful allies in the changing competitive landscape.
If youre an individual, its a bit simpler: go low carbon, low toxics, and local (and recycled content and recyclable as long as you recycle!).
But whether company or individual, remember that you vote for your future every day and youre already registered.
(By the way: paper or plastic is a trick question, with an easier answer (since there are always more than two choices, and the best one is usually found by stepping outside the box: No thanks, I brought my own!)