Sustainability

by Tom Heuerman, Ph.D. and Diane Olson, Ph.D.

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"The world population will just about double by some time around 2030. Without radical change, the kind of world implied by those numbers is unthinkable. It's a world of mass migrations and environmental degradation on an unimaginable scale. At best, it means the preservation of a few islands of privilege and prosperity in a sea of misery and violence."

Robert B. Shapiro: CEO Monsanto


We believe that the enterprises of the world must join together to live out a new purpose for business for the 21st century: To save the world by creating sustainable organizations, a sustainable global economy, and a sustainable planet for future generations to enjoy. Organizations must provide the leadership needed to change how people relate to the natural world. They alone have the human and financial resources to do so. They alone can make a profit by doing so.

A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without endangering the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A sustainable global economy is one the planet is capable of supporting indefinitely. A sustainable organization is one that the marketplace is capable of and willing to support indefinitely. Sustainable organizational transformation co-evolves with the marketplace and satisfies the highest needs of the people in the organization and in the marketplace.

Research shows that leaders and followers are disappointed with two-thirds of the efforts to transform organizations during the past decade. Studies indicate that the maximum life expectance of corporations is in the hundreds of years but the average life expectancy is less than 50 years. The discrepancy between the potential and actual life expectancy of corporations is greater than for any other species on the planet. This is depressing information made more distressing in times of such rapid global change. We can learn about transformation and sustainability from nature and from organizations that have endured for hundreds of years.

The word transformation is used frequently, but few leaders, academics, consultants, or organizations have ever experienced a transformation. True transformation involves a fundamental change in the relationship between an organization and its environment, including its internal environment. Transformation begins with a shift of worldview.

People live, lead, and work from their worldview. The worldview of Western industrial society is changing from a mechanistic view of the world to an organic or ecological worldview. This change in worldview will change in fundamental ways the way we think about leadership and what we do when leading and working in organizations. A transformation of worldview requires new learning, feedback and dialogue, a deep examination of beliefs, and a decision to change fundamental operating assumptions. A transformation requires the development of latent capabilities, and the practice of new skills. Transformation is difficult and requires tremendous commitment. Transformation is required for sustainability. Who does not want sustainable organizations and a sustainable world for their children and grandchildren to enjoy?

The world will not be saved by old minds with new programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved by new minds -- with no programs.

Daniel Quinn

06/08/98

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Tom Heuerman, Ph.D. and Diane Olson, Ph.D. are organizational consultants in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Phone: 612-931-3909; Fax: 612-931-3002

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