What does it mean if you don’t even know where 1% of the food you’ve consumed in your entire life came from?
Before the domestication of agriculture roughly twelve thousand years ago, there were about one million humans in the world. These geographically scattered hunter-gatherers were incredibly adaptable and resilient as a result of earth’s abundant supply of available natural resources. 11800 years later, around the year 1800, human population reached its first billion. The second billion arrived in 1930, just 130 years later. The third billion arrived in 1960, the fourth in 1975, the fifth in 1987, the sixth in 1999, and the seventh billion in 2011. On a historical timeline, the years it took to add an additional one billion persons is 11800, 130, 30, 15, 12, 12, and 12 respectively. The length of time needed to add one billion persons has suddenly fallen to a fractional interval. Furthermore, trajectories of future population growth estimate an already cumbersome human population to increase to over 9 billion by 2050. Shifting to a supreme and ubiquitous global presence, humans have overexploited preceding vacancies on earth and population development has persuaded human civilization to supersede natural environmental thresholds.
In a cynical (yet truthful) analogy, as humans, we’ve likened ourselves to a tremendous infection. We’re spreading, very rapidly. We’re using up a lot of resources to meet our needs and wants and we are transforming our host, the earth, in a very questionable manner.
In this same timeframe since 1800 we’ve doubled our life expectancy rates. We’ve paved ways to distribute nutrients to bolstering and thriving cities- thriving from the perspective of humanity. But what does our host, the Earth, think about our ever-expanding presence?
We can keep pumping out digital devices, miraculous vaccinations and high tech google glasses, but what is most important to our future is achieving balance with our incredible progress and our roles as human beings. What kind of future do we have to look forward to if our most basic needs are from agribusiness giants, or some wide open field from wherever in the world? What does it mean if you don’t even know where 1% of the food you’ve consumed in your entire life came from?
Many people realize this. The fact that the earth only contains finite resources is commonly known knowledge. Corporate entities are adapting to environmentally conscious paradigms. But they do this not only because their practices are good for the earth but primarily because it is good business. Leaders in corporate social responsibility have unleashed a myriad of research projects that show- consumers are satisfied investing their money in companies that practice environmental stewardship (yet there is a disconnect of achieving sustainability through a lack of incentive between ecological and economic processes). The depth of technological innovation of the past few decades shows that we have not lost our most useful gifts; humans are ingenious, adaptive and clever. We also have moral capacity, compassion for life and an appetite for justice. We now need to more fully engage these gifts to make economic life more socially just, environmentally responsible and less destructive to nature. Check out Patagonia’s “Common Threads Initiative“.
The Common Threads Initiative has provided consumers with up front knowledge of the resources used to manufacture Patagonia’s products. And while they collected this data, Patagonia realized they are not a socially responsible company. That they don’t do everything a responsible company can do, and that no existing companies actually do either. But what is important is that Patagonia realized their environmental and social responsibilities and then began to act on them. Was it the blistering moral impurity or was it the in depth consumer research that provoked this change in business strategy? The truth is, it doesn’t matter. In our dynamic global economy, the corporations that move forward with vision will have the brightest futures. In our unbalance of global growth and consumption we cannot predict intricacies of our future economy in say, 2060.
So what is the contemporary business model that will withstand the test of time? Something with depth, something with sound moral judgement. Something that overcomes the fact that money is too big of an incentive to develop sustainable strategies.
Humans reached their first one billion in population at the turn of the 19th century. Once we hit that mark, a simple mathematical concept provoked- exponential growth. 200 years later we’re sitting just above 7 billion and continuing on an upward trend. Designing a better future involves envisioning systems that haven’t yet conceived. It is absolutely necessary to establish a stronger link between humans and their life sources. And as a common link between natural resources and global consumption, corporate entities are a place where initiatives can unboundedly reach populations to effectively spread environmental stewardship. Through intentions, thoughts, actions and self-awareness the corporate structure can collaborate to play its part in creating a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.